Reservation homelessness survey first in the nationby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Hundreds of people on Indian reservations in Minnesota are homeless or living in overcrowded housing. The first comprehensive study of homelessness on reservations found poverty and a shortage of housing significant problems on six northern Minnesota reservations.
Moorhead, Minn. — The Red Lake Nation is not unique among the six Minnesota reservations studied by the Wilder Foundation.
Hundreds of people are on a waiting list for non- existent housing. Most don't meet the federal governments definition of homeless. They don't live under bridges or in shelters.
Red Lake Homeless Shelter Director Carol Priest says they live with friends or family members who have a house.
"It's not unusual to find one nuclear family per bedroom in a home. So you could have a three- bedroom house with a parent or two parents plus their kids in each bedroom," says Priest. "So you could have 12 to 15 people in a three- bedroom house."
Nine out of ten people surveyed said they were staying temporarily with relatives or friends. Nearly two-thirds of them were living in overcrowded housing. That leads to rapid spread of communicable diseases. Priest says it also makes parenting difficult when there is no privacy.
Overcrowding can complicate simple everyday tasks. Just getting kids off to school can be a challenge in the morning when 15 people share one bathroom.
The study dispelled a stereotype that American Indian families prefer living in large family units. 98 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to live in their own home.
Homesslessness is driven by increasing demand for housing and persistent poverty, according to Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond Du Lac reservation. The study found the average income for those interviewed on the six northern reservations is $517 per month.
The Wilder research study interviewed 674 people in the fall of 2006. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed were women while 48 percent were men. 241 of those interviewed had children with them and the average age of homeless adults was 32 for men and 31 for women. On many reservations the housing shortage is compounded by a growing population. Karen Diver says about 250 families are waiting for housing at Fond du Lac, and the list grows every month.
"Part of the trouble is our population at Fond du Lac is growing by about 10 percent per year. So it's not a matter of chipping away at a 250 family waiting list, it's a matter of getting ahead of the curve and accomodating the growth in the number of residents at the same time we're seeing a burgeoning population of doubled and tripled up families," Diver says.
New tribal housing is going up on all six northern reservations, but Diver says the study shows homelessness won't be solved just by building more houses. She says people must be able to afford the houses and after years of homelessness, many need job skills and transitional support to become self sufficient.
She says tribes also need to reconsider the old federal government model of building small single family houses on reservations. In some cases, Diver says larger homes could allow children to care for their elderly parents. Apartment buildings could be designed to help those with chemical dependency become self sufficient.
This study of reservation homelessness may spur some change in the programs run by the federal government, according to Greg Owen, researcher for the Wilder Foundation, which coordinated the study.
"(Housing and Urban Development)HUD has a specific mandate to understand both substandard housing and doubled up conditions on reservations and they had not had very much data about it," Owen says. "We think this may help broker new thinking within HUD about how to address these problems and how to act on their mandate which I believe they've had since 1998 to address substandard and overcrowded conditions on American Indian reservations."
Tribal leaders say they will use the data to push for change in federal regulations, and seek more funding for housing on
- All Things Considered, 12/10/2007, 5:14 p.m.