Families will tap every possible resource before they get to New Pathways, the only homeless shelter in the lakes area, said Kathy Carlson, program manager for New Pathways.
This could mean that families are “doubled up” (living with a friend or family member) or living in fish houses, tents or vehicles before they seek help from the program, Carlson said.
New Pathways is a program serving five counties with two offices, one in Brainerd and another in Cambridge. They provide shelter to homeless families (though not singles) through a network of churches and volunteers.
The program then provides daytime help with case management, skills training and efforts to find the families permanent housing.
The program is successful, too. Statistics show that 90 percent of families leave the New Pathways program to permanent housing.
Carlson said the goal is to help homeless families thrive long term, even though they’re generally only in the program for a short time.
Families have to qualify for the program and can stay for 30-60 days. At night, the families stay at area churches, which rotate to provide sleeping accommodations and three meals a day.
New Pathways helps with résumés for job applications, interview skills and parenting skills. Each day participants have goals to meet.
“The overriding goal is to not put a Band-Aid over a bad situation but to give them some skills,” Carlson said.
In situations that are particularly difficult, the program takes a collaborative approach to case management. In some cases, families just need a hand up. In others, Carlson said, New Pathways knows it needs to form a team and put support in place.
That support can include following the families at their permanent housing, continuing to provide laundry, computer use and basic needs, and following up after six months.
Carlson said the most common barrier families meet is a lack of affordable housing. Working minimum wage, families can’t afford $500-$600 a month in rent. Access to affordable housing is limited, Carlson said.
Sometimes, it’s circumstances that lead families to homelessness. This could be illness or medical expenses. Other times its poor rental history, an eviction or something negative on a credit report.
Carlson said the New Pathways team works with families on budgeting skills and ways to be responsible renters, so families can maintain permanent housing once they have it.
She said that generally the program sees a drop in attendance around this time of year as tax returns come back, but this year that isn’t the case. Numbers are staying steady.
New Pathways can provide help and temporary housing to up to 18 people at a time, but has had to turn people away due to lack of space.
Furthermore, the challenges homeless families meet are not improving; they’re staying the same, Carlson said.
“I admire the families in our program,” Carlson said, “for their resiliency and ability to press on.”
She said the program is very grateful to the people who volunteer at area churches to house and feed families in the program, the program’s donors, and the community support and collaboration.