WILLMAR - An 18-county pilot program that has the goal to end homelessness in southwest Minnesota, including Kandiyohi County, begins Oct. 1.

The “coordinated assessment” pilot program is designed to keep homeless people from “going from agency to agency asking if they might be helped,” according to a news release from the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care, which is a regional planning group coordinated by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership.

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The system, which is a requirement of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, will instead link homeless individuals with potential assistance and refer them to resources through an assessment that can be done over the phone or in person.

“Helping people move out of homelessness not only benefits them, but it benefits the community in that greater housing stability means better health, better employability, more safety, and better school performance for children,” said Justin Vorbach, Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care coordinator.

Data from the most recent point-in-time homelessness count on Jan. 23 reveal that 124 households were homeless in the 18 counties of southwest Minnesota, with most coming from Kandiyohi County.

The study identified a household as an individual, couple, or family with children.

Of these 124 households, 36 were in Kandiyohi, 25 were in Nobles County, 22 were in Lyon County, 14 were in McLeod County, eight were in Meeker County, six were in Jackson County, four were in Cottonwood County, three were in Redwood County, three were in Renville County and five households were in other counties of southwest Minnesota.

The households included 68 that were doubled-up temporarily on the couch or floor of family or friends, 28 that were in a transitional housing program run by an agency and 11 that were in an emergency shelter program.

There is only one homeless shelter program in the region - The Refuge in Marshall - and one domestic violence shelter in Willmar, which is Safe Avenues.

The report also showed that 10 households were unsheltered, which could mean living in a vehicle, a coin laundry facility, or a home with no utilities. Two of those households in the study had children.

Finally, seven households were being put up in a motel for a few days by an agency.

Under the new intake system, several agencies in the region have been identified as intake points for assessments.

They include:

- Heartland Community Action Offices for Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod and Renville counties;

- The Salvation Army of Willmar for Kandiyohi County;

- Safe Avenues in Willmar (for domestic violence situations);

- Lutheran Social Services Youth Programs in Willmar (for homeless youth situations in Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod and Renville counties);

- Prairie Five Community Action in Montevideo for Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Big Stone, Swift and Lac qui Parle counties;

- Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council in Worthington for Nobles, Rock, Pipestone and Murray counties;

- Western Community Action Offices for Lincoln, Lyon, Redwood, Cottonwood and Jackson counties.

About the program The Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care (www.swmhp.org/coc) is a housing and services planning group serving as the local entry point for homeless program funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The group works to track need, secure financial resources, and coordinate regional goals to end homelessness in 18 counties in Southwest Minnesota.

The Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care is coordinated by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and meets monthly in Willmar or Marshall.

Regular participants in the meetings include the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority, The Salvation Army, the Link, the Southwest Minnesota Adult Mental Health Consortium, Lutheran Social Service Youth Programs, Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council, Prairie Five Community Action, Southwestern Mental Health Center, Western Community Action, Heartland Community Action Agency, Safe Avenues, the Refuge, and concerned community members.

Meetings are open to the public and anyone interested in ending homelessness is welcome to attend.

Questions about the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care can be addressed coordinator to Justin Vorbach at justinv@swmhp.org or 507-836-1609.