Preventing Homelessness For Children and Families

Preventing Homelessness For Children and Families

Homelessness is one of the biggest challenges our community faces, and with your help, United Way is working to solve this challenge.

In our daily lives we may not see or notice the struggles with homelessness that so many children and families experience, but they're real.  Homelessness is such an important topic for our community to discuss because it’s an easy one to avoid — especially when we’ve all been staying closer to home.

How many people are homeless in our community?

On any given night here in our local community, 1,022 people are homeless.

These 1,022 people are parents, children, teenagers, senior citizens, friends and neighbors – each one a human being who deserves chance and opportunity.

When you picture a person who is homeless, what face comes to mind? Who are they? What do they look like? Do you picture a man downtown on a bench? A woman on a street corner? A mom and her son? It may be surprising to many of us to know that of those who are homeless in our community, 23% are children. In the Fargo Public School district alone, during last year’s 2019-2020 school year, nearly 240 children were identified as homeless.

How do we prevent homelessness for local children and families?

At United Way instead of asking the question, How do we help the homeless? or How do we make sure people who are homeless have a safe place to live? We started thinking about this community issue differently. Instead, we asked: What if we prevented homelessness from ever happening in the first place?

At United Way, innovation is important to us when we work to solve our communities’ biggest issues – instead of trying to solve a problem that exists, we are working to prevent the problem from ever happening.

How? We invite you to watch and see.
In this video, we saw how oftentimes it's a crisis that can be the first step in a family becoming homeless. In this woman’s story, it was a job loss but it could be a medical emergency, a mental health issue, or the death of a family member or loved one. 

Often times these crises spiral, and there is a domino effect that causes a family to become homeless. The stress and trauma these families experience can often create a vicious cycle that lasts for generations.

Children who experience homelessness in their childhood, are more likely to experience homelessness as an adult, and the cycle continues.

How can you help?

We can't stop bad things from happening, but what we can do is unite as a community and change how we provide support and services.

United Way brought together community partners and national consultants to blueprint how we can make this a reality right here in our community. The solution is providing the right help at the right time – and we can do that, with your help. 

We need your help. We need you. We are working to rally the community and invite you to give to United Way so we can hire Housing Stability Specialists to make this work and this goal a reality in our community, and ensure that the 1,022 of our neighbors who experience homelessness on any given night have the right support at the right time. 

This is an exciting time for our community. We can come together. Defy the odds. Rise up in the face of challenge.

What is the goal?

Our goal is to work together as a community to prevent 90% of families and children from becoming homeless by 2023.

This a big goal. This is a bold goal. And like any large goal, it takes teamwork to accomplish.

This goal will take teamwork from our shelters and youth drop-in centers, and all of us supporting our homeless shelters, too. It is a community-wide strategy spanning so many partners working to help people in our community experiencing homelessness. 

A Challenge and An Opportunity

Preventing homelessness for children and families is both a challenge and an opportunity. Hear from our 2010 Volunteer Campaign Chair, Chris Barta from Marvin, as he shares his perspective.

Achieving this goal means understanding the challenges that many families face on a daily basis.

Jan Anderson is the Title I Coordinator and Homeless Liaison for Fargo Public Schools, and works with students and families experiencing homelessness on a daily basis.

“Usually, before we even start school, we have 60 to 70 kids that are self-referred and are identified as homeless,” she said. When the 2019/2020 school year concluded, nearly 240 students were identified as having experienced homelessness throughout the year.

Sarah Kennedy, Homeless Prevention and Diversion Director for Presentation Partners in Housing, has worked for 15 years with families who are in a housing crisis for nearly 15 years, and echoes the need for help to be shifted from management to prevention. 

“We know that no one agency can end homelessness alone – we will do this work in partnership with organizations across our community, all working toward the same goal to prevent homelessness for children and families,” she said.

The Weekly Need is Great

Each week, an average of 80 to 100 applications from families in crisis are reviewed. During the second week in September of 2020, 92 households applied for assistance with a housing crisis. These households were either at risk of becoming homeless, or already living in a homeless shelter, their vehicle, or outdoors. After a crucial review by the Housing Stability Specialists, 12 households, or only 13% were able to receive help and assistance to prevent them from becoming homeless, or help gain stable housing.

Eighty households were unable to receive help, which means many of them would become homeless within the next several days and weeks, or continue to live in the homeless shelter, outdoors, in their vehicle, doubled up, or in unsafe and unfit living conditions.

Sharing the Story: A Community-Wide Effort

As we continue to shine a light on homelessness, in October 2020, Robin Huebner at The Forum, published a two-part multi-media article and video series was released, which culminated with a live virtual townhall on homelessness in our area. Our very own Thomas Hill, VP of Community Impact, served as a panel member, alongside local experts on the issue.

Part 1: Pandemic compounds the pain for F-M homeless population: In part one of the series, The Forum examines the state of homelessness in the metro and how families and children are coping with housing instability during a pandemic.

Part 2: Here's the strategy for ending homelessness in F-M and why everyone has a stake in it: In part two of the series, The Forum looks at how community partners are working to prevent homelessness.

A live, virtual townhall was also held on October 14 which allowed the community to hear first-hand from several agencies involved in helping our area’s homeless population.

When you invest with United Way of Cass-Clay, you help prevent families from becoming homeless. Together, as a community, we can help prevent children from every experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

Michelle and Olivia’s Story

Meet Michelle and Olivia. Imagine having a child born with a congenital heart defect and in need of live-saving surgery within their first year of life. Now imagine facing surgery and recovery while homeless.

That is exactly the experience of Michelle, and her daughter Olivia, who live in our community. After trying to escape an unhealthy relationship, Michelle and her daughter Olivia were homeless and living in their car when little Olivia needed surgery to repair her heart. Recovery for Olivia was stressful, difficult and risky, even more so without a place to call home.

When families experiencing homelessness have a health crisis, it becomes challenging to heal and regain the health that impacts them each and every day. With your help, we can help families like Michelle’s at their point of need and prevent them from becoming homeless.

Amanda’s Story

Amanda is a mom to Ben and Andrew who go to middle school in West Fargo. They have been homeless for two years. Her and her boys have bounced between her brother’s home and staying with her ex-boyfriend, neither of which were healthy or safe living situations.

Not giving up hope, and with a sense of determination, Amanda has tried numerous times to get back on her feet. But because of her past she has been denied 5 apartments. For two years, her boys worried about where they would sleep and where they would get ready for school each morning, as it was constantly changing.

Imagine if a Housing Stability Specialist was able to help Amanda at her point of need and crisis. Her young sons would never have to experience the trauma of homelessness. Her family would never have to stay the night in a homeless shelter. Her boys would have the opportunity to go to school well-rested and prepared, and grow up in a stable home. How would Amanda’s story be different? Together, united as a community, we can change the story for families like Amanda’s.

Carla’s Story

Carla is a mom in our community who lives with her 8-year-old daughter, Jada. Earlier this year, Carla was diagnosed with cancer and needed surgery and extensive treatment in Minneapolis. As she traveled for her care, Carla was unable to work and lost her job. Because of Carla’s compromised immunity and the pandemic, her doctor would not sign off for her to return to work, as it isn’t safe.

The family has been through so much, so it was devastating when they received an eviction notice for unpaid rent. In addition to trying to recover from cancer, Carla was desperate and fearful of losing her home, and was at risk of being homeless. Jada wondered if she was going to lose her mom to cancer, and now was wondering if she was going to love her mom, and her home, too.

Carla was able to connect with Sarah, a Housing Stability Specialist made possible by United Way of Cass-Clay. This trained and caring individual worked closely with Carla’s property manager to provide rent assistance to give time for Carla to recover, and stop the eviction process. Carla’s fears of losing her apartment and being homeless with her daughter melted away. Carla never had to enter a homeless shelter in our community, and Jada never had to stay the night in a shelter. Because Carla had the right specialist at the right time, she and her daughter avoided homelessness.

Today, Carla continues to receive cancer treatment, but is showing progress and results. With the fear of becoming homeless behind her, Carla feels hopeful that she will have time to recover, return to work, and be able to just focus on being Jada’s mom again. Carla’s story is an example of the power of community, and how we can all work together to help.


Invest today to help prevent children and families from homelessness. For more information, reach out to our team at