By CareerForce on Roosevelt Avenue.

Outside Diary Queen at McKinley Plaza.

Near Zion Lutheran Church on Lake Avenue.

Outside the county government building at Lake Avenue and Front Street West.

By Detroit Lakes Middle School.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

These are all of the spots -- so far -- where Detroit Lakes residents have seen winter coats and apparel hanging from trees over the past month. The coats are on hangers, and include little notes such as "take if u can use."

The person or persons responsible have not come forward. The take-a-coat plan might be a coordinated effort, or could be a case of a copycat seeing a good idea, and replicating it in their own neighborhood.

The gesture has touched the community; on the Tribune's Facebook page, our weekend story about the coats has been shared more than 80 times, and viewed by thousands.

However this grassroots coat drive started, it is a great thing for someone in immediate need.

It also is a simple way to open the discussion about the larger, underlying issues of homelessness and financial hardship.

According to 2018 data from Minnesota Homeless Study by Wilder Research, 341 people in Becker and Otter Tail counties were experiencing homelessness. In the greater state study, 32% of those experiencing homelessness were children 17 and younger with parents. Unaccompanied youth age 24 and younger made up 15% of state totals.

In rural communities, homelessness does not "look" like one might see in bigger cities -- people sleeping in bus stops or asking for change. In Detroit Lakes, someone experiencing homelessness might be sleeping in their vehicle, or "crashing" with friends and relatives or staying in cheap motels.

It makes them less visible, but no less in need.

According to Wilder Research, the top reasons for Minnesotans experiencing homelessness are:

  • Not enough affordable housing.
  • Obstacles to maintaining housing: chronic health conditions; abuse and violence.
  • Discrimination & inequities: Poverty is concentrated among people of color; racial disparities occur among all age groups, genders & geographic locations.
  • Low wages and lack of employment.
  • Shortage of housing subsidies.
  • Policies barring people with criminal backgrounds and poor credit.
  • Increased costs of rental housing.

These are systemic issues that can affect nearly anyone at a moment's notice.

We applaud those who have given the coats out of the goodness of their hearts, and thank them for their ingenuity. And we hope those who have taken those coats found the warmth they needed.

Those who find themselves in need right now can stop into one of DL's many thrift stores, including the Adventist Community Services & Thrift Store, at 404 Richwood Road. Their mission is to keep costs low to best serve those in need.

For the rest of us, visit www.mahube.org/services/family-development-and-housing to learn more about this issue in our region -- and how we can all "hang up a coat" in our own ways.