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Homelessness a difficult problem to solve

The number of homeless individuals in North Dakota continues to rise.

"In January, 2013, we counted 2069 people who were homeless in North Dakota," said Michael Carbone of the North Dakota Coalition for the Homeless. "1395 of those people were outside. And it was very cold that night -- 26 below."

The Coalition does an annual "Point in Time" survey of homelessness in North Dakota. And the issue was part of a housing summit held in Mandan. Carbone was on a panel at the summit.

"One of the misconceptions the public has is -- more homelessness means a need for more shelters," said Carbone. "But in the final anaylysis, it means you need more housing -- more appropriate housing."

Carbone says he hopes his data will stimulate more discussions on how to have a balanced approach to housing development. "So that we're sure we're developing adequate supplies of workforce housing, but also housing for people of extremely low income and with special challenges."

"Those numbers are striking," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (R-ND), who sponsored the summit. "They're real -- and we need to start paying attention. It's overwhelming our social service agencies as well."

Heitkamp says she’s looking at federal agencies – like the Department of Housing and Urban Development – for flexibility in existing federal programs to deal with this. But she says because of sequestration – and the inability of Congress to pass a budget for HUD – it’s going to be tough to find new money to help.

"The HUD budget came out of committee with a strong bipartisan vote, but it ended up failing on the Senate floor," said Heitkamp. "It sends the message that we're going to have some tough budget times ahead."

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