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Hunger and homelessness: Agencies to call attention to needy in community

By Molly Miron

Special to the Pioneer

BEMIDJI – A dozen or so years ago, Bemidji community members in need of food and lodging were basically invisible. At the same time, nonprofit agencies were poorly coordinated in their efforts to help.

The response was to organize HAHAW, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, to educate the general public and raise money for assistance to people in need. This year, the awareness week started Saturday and runs through next Saturday.

“Let’s not just put on the blinders and say there is no hunger or homelessness,” said Geri Hickerson, executive director of Northwoods Habitat for Humanity.

The HAHAW Committee began meeting in the late 1990s as representatives of local service organizations focused on these issues.

“Our big event is on Tuesday, the Chicken Dinner,” said Beth Warrick, associate director of Community Resources Connections.

The dinner will run from 4:30-7 p.m. Tuesday at Bemidji United Methodist Church, Ninth Street and Beltrami Avenue Northwest. The cost is $7.50 for adults and $5 for children. Organizers ask those aiming to attend to call Warrick at 333-6856 to help with food supply planning. The dinner will be accompanied by a silent auction. Funds raised by the dinner and donations will be supplemented by Thrivent.

On Tuesday, hunger and homelessness statistics for the Beltrami County area will be on display in the BUMC narthex. For example, fair market rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment in the county costs $598, which means 1.122 renter households pay at least half of their income for housing, Hickerson said. It also means, according to the Minnesota Housing Partnership data, a person would have to earn $11.50 per hour for a 40-hour per week job to afford that rent. But, the typical renter in Beltrami County earns about $6.95 per hour.

“Affordable housing is defined as not paying more than 30 percent of income on housing expenses,” Hickerson said.

When housing is unaffordable, families have to choose between paying their rent and other needs, such as food or medicine.

Other statistics, according to the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota Kids Count Data Book 2012, include 26 percent of area children living in poverty, 37 percent receiving SNAP (food stamps) and 59. 8 percent on free or reduced price school lunches.

The nine sponsoring agencies will have additional educational materials available Tuesday at the church. The agencies are Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Bi-County CAP, Churches United, Community Resources Connections, Evergreen House, Northwoods Habitat for Humanity, Village of Hope Homeless Shelter, Bemidji School District and the Bemidji Community Soup Kitchen.