Monday, February 08, 2010

Adding to North Dakota's homeless problem

With many unfilled oil jobs in North Dakota, people are arriving to try to fill the openings. For those who don't do the research on housing and the job requirements, it could make them homeless for a while. This adds to the homeless population already in the state, where few shelters exist especially in it's many rural areas.

From CBS News, this Associated Press story highlights the problem.

Many of the job seekers came to North Dakota without researching jobs or housing, said Louis "Mac" McLeod, executive director of the Minot Area Homeless Coalition. They arrive to find they are unqualified for the work that exists, or if they land a job, they can't get housing, which is scarce.

"If you got a roof over your head, stay there," McLeod advised. "We want people to come to North Dakota, but we don't want people coming here and not being able to survive."

Most don't understand how severe North Dakota's winters are, he said: "Put your hand in a freezer for five minutes - welcome to North Dakota."

Eric Cisneros, 27, drove 700 miles from Colorado to North Dakota about three weeks ago on a tip from a buddy who landed a job in the oil fields. He's been spending nights in his truck or staying with new acquaintances in Minot. The town of about 36,000 is home to a college and a U.S. Air Force Base but has no permanent shelter for the homeless.

Most of North Dakota's smaller cities and towns lack shelters and other services for the homeless. That may be because large-scale homelessness hasn't been a widespread problem before.

Last year, 987 homeless people were counted in a survey that recorded people encountered by volunteers in a single day, said Michael Carbone, executive director of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People. That was an 18 percent increase from the previous year's count of 836. This year's figures aren't yet available.

Cisneros said he plans to tough it out even though North Dakota is "probably the coldest place on the planet."

In Colorado, he worked as a laborer and carpenter, competing with dozens of people for each job. In Minot, he found a job as a cashier at a truck stop and has applied for oil industry jobs.

"Initially, it's been tough in North Dakota but in the long run, I think it will be worth it, because there are jobs here," Cisneros said.

North Dakota has about 8,500 unfilled jobs and the lowest jobless rate of any state, at about 4 percent.

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