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Mahube receives grant to help seniors at risk of becoming homeless

About one in five people in Becker County is over 65 years old, and with the Baby Boomers retiring, that number is increasing, but Social Security just can't seem to keep up. A community needs survey, developed by Mahube-Otwa Community Action Partnership, showed among other statistics, that 9.3 percent of the seniors (over the age of 65) are living in poverty.

Mahube also caters to surrounding counties (Hubbard County, Mahnomen County, Ottertail County and Wadena County) where statistics are similar--or worse.

However, to help decrease poverty among the senior population, the Minnesota Department of Human Services' Adult Aging Division has offered a round of Live Well at Home Grants--the first of its kind--to Mahube and 31 other organizations across Minnesota "to provide and improve housing for older adults who are homeless or at risk of being so."

It's not a forever fix, designed to provide short-term help, maybe to pay a housing deposit or help set up utilities, the $250,000 grant is available Sep. 16 of 2016 to June 30 of 2018 for seniors in need.

There are a number of reasons why seniors are finding themselves in poverty or near poverty in Becker and surrounding counties.

"I think everybody's story of how this happened to them is going to be very individualistic," said Karen Lenius, Becker County senior coordinator at Mahube.

Some seniors have found themselves in or near poverty due to health care costs, others after going through a divorce or breakup, which can also be a financially stressful situation.

"Statistically, the number of divorces for (people age) 60 or over have risen pretty dramatically across the state," Lenius said.

Others at risk of poverty are those who have recently become widowed or have experienced other sudden change such as a relocation.

Another issue is mortgage costs.

"Years ago, people who retired would not still have a mortgage payment," Lenius said. "There's just not a lot of wiggle room when that happens."

But it's not just the 65 and up age group that is having trouble staying afloat, Lenius said. It's also the people who aren't quite old enough to receive social security.

"A lot of 55 to 64 year olds who did a physical job and are no longer able to anymore (are struggling)," added Jim Mckinstra, a family development and housing case worker with Mahube. "We've had a few (apply for the grant) who are between 50 and 59, especially Native Americans."

And Mahube can help, thanks to this grant. Otherwise, there just isn't a lot of help if the elderly are to slip into homelessness.

"The nearest shelter for us is Moorhead or Bemidji," Lenius said.

With the grant, workers at Mahube will contact whoever is referred and do an initial screening to assess the need and figure out what led to their crisis. Then, they are able to provide short-term help: a deposit or first month's rent, help paying off healthcare costs or help paying for utilities for a few months.

"We can hear their story and make a variety of referrals," Lenius said. "People don't present with just one issue. Usually it's a category of need."

The ultimate goal is to prevent homelessness by allowing a senior to stay in their current residence, if possible, or find them subsidized housing they can afford.

"There's sometimes a waiting list, so that's a challenge," Lenius said.

Then, if there are long-term needs that should be addressed as well, Mahube can make referrals to make sure a senior can stay independent long term.

"If we feel they would need some kind of long-term assistance, we can point them to some resources," Lenius said.