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Wadena homeless facing a bitter winter

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Wadena homeless facing a bitter winter
Wadena Minnesota 314 S. Jefferson 56482

Being homeless stings the hardest when winter cold strikes, and in Wadena, that problem is staring some unfortunate people straight in the face.


Although it's situated in one of the poorest parts of the state, Wadena has no permanent homeless shelter, said Lynn Nesland, family development/housing case worker at Mahube-Otwa Community Action Partnership. Instead, Mahube-Otwa, Wadena County Human Services and a variety of local churches and law enforcement band together to give what aid they can to those who find themselves without a permanent residence.

"Homeless shelters are very expensive," Nesland said. "If you get funded to have one, it is very difficult then to be able to maintain it."

However, their task is lightened somewhat by the fact that most without permanent housing will seek shelter with friends, rotating every so often, Nesland said.

Mahube-Otwa conducted a survey of where homeless people were situated on the night of Jan 23, and out of 13 people that Nesland interviewed, she said all but four were staying with friends and family. Some of the four were staying in what Nesland called "buildings not meant for habitation."

Others were staying in motels, which Nesland said is also problematic because it makes it impossible for families to save up enough money for something better.

"You can never get into permanent housing because you're constantly using your income," Nesland said.

Nesland said Mahube-Otwa helps out Wadena's homeless population in several ways, including rental assistance. In extreme cases, they will coordinate with other organizations around town to find immediate temporary housing in a motel nearby or a homeless shelter in a different town.

Father Don Wagner of Saint Ann's Catholic Church said the church helped both the homeless and transients passing through Wadena by putting them up at hotels if possible and referring them to other sources of aid. However, there are significant cracks that needy people can slip through, especially if they come on a weekend when charitable organizations aren't open, Wagner said.

"I would say that we can only meet (the) minimum at best," he said. "We're scrambling to do the best that we can."

Deb Nelson, lead eligibility worker at Wadena County Human Services, said the county can give needy people an application for assistance with food, cash and health care. They also will help give people hotel rooms if no other options are available, she said.

More than just a place to stay, the organizations that help homeless people in Wadena give intangible things that don't make it into surveys and grant applications. These organizations give security and stability during the coldest time of the year. Most importantly, they try to give the homeless hope that will last until spring.