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Southeast Minnesota community battles against issue of homelessness

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Austin Salvation Army Building on North Main Street

AUSTIN, Minn. (KTTC) - While most of us have a warm place to go at night, many in Mower County are forced to take shelter with a friend, sleep in a car or just brave the elements. Yet even with no available shelter, organizations are fighting back against homelessness.

"It is a very hard subject when you say homeless," said Salvation Army case worker Lori Espe.

Drugs and mental health play a role, but so do other factors like unemployment.

"If they lose their income and don't obtain income right away, to find a place to live is almost impossible," Espe said. "There's so many different factors that can happen to a person because of one event."

And it's very hard on those who are homeless in and around Austin. Currently, there are no shelters in Mower County. However, on days when the temperature drops below zero, something has to be done.

"We always make sure that we have our building open when the office is open some anyone could come in and be warm if they needed," said Espe.

While the Salvation Army in Austin does not have a warming shelter, they do have other ways to help, like offering free food and dinners Monday through Thursday.

"Meet some friends, find out some resources that are available, maybe find out how to get out of that situation," said Espe.

For someone who needs assistance, Semcac is a good place to start. They help with utilities and even shelter when you fill out just a single questionnaire.

"That puts people on a priority list to help them receive shelter or housing," said Semcac case manager Heidi Hillman.

If a student is experiencing homelessness, they can be eligible for free lunch, reduced fees and transportation to and from school.

"We want kids to be kids and not have to be worrying about where am I going to sleep tonight or what am I going to eat tonight," said Sumner Elementary principal Sheila Berger who also serves as the school district's homelessness liaison.

The partnerships between the county's organizations work to help people access the resources they lack.

"It's something I don't like to see. I don't have enough money to cure it, so this is what I do," concluded Espe.

Organizations that provide resources for those in Mower County will be set up in Riverland Community College's gym tomorrow. It is located in the campus' East Building. The event runs from 11 to 2.

Alex Tejada

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