Dale and Breana Kircher, a young couple with three daughters ages 3, 2 and 6 months, have been homeless for two weeks.
The Kirchers were living in Long Prairie and were making ends meet but complications arrived that included high medical bills and they finally came to their breaking point. The Kirchers, desperate for help, walked into New Pathways in Brainerd. New Pathways is an organization that serves homeless families with children. During the day, families work with New Pathways to find housing, get assistance with life skills from budgeting to parenting and search for employment. At night, they go to the area churches for a warm place to sleep and meals.
Angie Kingbird, New Pathways program manager, said the Kircher family has been working hard on their goal to become self-efficient once again but the family will have no place to go for a week starting Sunday. Kingbird said New Pathways works with 21 area churches that host the homeless families but there are not enough churches to host all the weeks of the year. Kingbird said there are seven weeks a year when they need to find an alternative place for the family to stay. Kingbird said they’ve been blessed that some of the churches agree to host another week, which in the past has left four weeks of figuring out where the families will go.
“We have no churches able to host the homeless families next week,” said Kingbird. “After next week, we’ll be good through April, but then we’ll be back again figuring out where the families will go for the three to seven open weeks that were unable to be filled by churches.”
New Pathways is asking for the public’s help in monetary donations that would help them set up the homeless families in a hotel. Kingbird said at this time they have up to three families who will need a place to sleep next week. Those wanting to make a donation can drop or mail it off at New Pathways, 714 South Sixth St., Brainerd, MN 56401. Or may call 454-0460. Kingbird also encourages other churches to get involved in the program. Kingbird said it is possible for two small churches to partner up for a week.
Kingbird said the program provides interim help as families move on to market-rate housing and jobs. Kingbird said 90 percent of the families they work with are successful in making that transition, they just need a hand to reach that goal.
“They want to be in a home with their family,” Kingbird said. “Most of the families who leave this program leave to rent homes and have jobs and are working in the area and are productive when they leave here.”
The average length of stay in the program is 35 days. The program works only with families with children and nearly half of the children last year were age 5 and younger.
Kingbird said it isn’t easy for the families they see to come in and have little control over their own schedules.
“It’s scary for them to walk through the door period,” Kingbird said, as parents arrive with no where to go and no ability at that point to provide for their family. “That’s a lot to swallow.”
Last year New Pathways served 41 families and had a 90 percent success rate, meaning the families transitioned to regular housing and maintained it for the six months they are monitored after leaving the program.
New Pathways works with families residing in Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, Wadena and Aitkin counties and has a capacity to help six families or 18 people at a time. As of Thursday, the program had one family in need of housing, with two more families who may be seeking help. Kingbird said it costs $45 per day or $315 per week to sponsor a homeless family with a place to stay and three meals a day for a week. The churches provide mentoring. New Pathways works to help them navigate job banks, learn computer skills to help them in a job search and other skills such as preparing for the job interview.
Kingbird said the family members are required to work daily to set and meet goals. The families have a case manager to help them with budgeting or job interviewing skills. Vouchers help them get an appropriate outfit for interviews and job applications. Each day they look for housing and work, Kingbird said.
Kingbird said the biggest barrier to the families the program serves is affordable housing. Some have lost their jobs. Others are from generational poverty.
“When you are making minimum wage, even if it’s full time, it’s really hard to pay $600 to $800 in rent,” Kingbird said.
Kingbird said a small community group is committed to preventing these open weeks in the future and is researching the potential to have a shelter site in the area, but those options are still in the planning stages.