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A bad case of the NIMBYs in Moorhead

by Mike McFeely

"Not in my backyard. Anywhere else, but not in my backyard."

That's the cold, shameful message being shouted by some Moorhead residents opposed to a proposed apartment complex geared mainly toward homeless families.

Churches United for the Homeless wants to build a 41-unit, $6.5 million complex on 34th Street, just off U.S. Highway 10 north of Cash Wise Foods. It has applied for a $6 million grant from the state of Minnesota.

The plan is to provide long-term apartments for families currently without homes. There is an overwhelming need. Even as we hear almost daily of the bountiful agriculture and oil economies of North Dakota and Minnesota and the booming business climate in Fargo-Moorhead, 2012 statistics reveal there were 43 homeless families in Fargo and 21 in Moorhead. The majority of those families had children under 5 years old.

This is a worthy project that will provide stability to families. This is a project that rightly has the support of the city of Moorhead and Clay County.

"People do best when they have stable housing," Moorhead mayor Del Rae Williams said. "You can't figure out how to get a job or get the medical things you need or anything else, until you know where you're sleeping that night. Especially if you are a parent. Think about it. Think about yourself as a parent. You don't know where you're sleeping. You don't know if you'll be anywhere safe for your children. What kinds of things go through a parent's mind at that point?"

Those concerns didn't matter to neighbors of the proposed project, nor to residents of a nearby senior housing complex, who packed a city council meeting last week to voice their opposition to homeless families getting homes.

What sorts of people would be hanging around this complex, they asked? What sorts of people would be wandering around, looking for who knows what at all hours of the day and night? What would they tell their children if they -- GASP! -- saw a homeless

person? As if the homeless are Medusa, and you'll turn to stone if you see one. Or perhaps the homeless are zombies, the tottering undead intent on eating your brain.

No, folks, the answer for a curious child is this: "That's a homeless person."

It's likely a non-starter anyway. The proposed complex is not a temporary shelter or a walk-in meant for overnight stays. It is a secure, monitored apartment building just like any other secure, monitored apartment building in which thousands of non-homeless Fargo-Moorhead residents currently live. The only difference is these apartments will be filled families that currently, and sadly, are homeless.

"I, frankly, have a fair amount of homeless friends," Williams said. "They are just like any other people. They have hopes and dreams that they have in their lives. They are all individuals. They are not the drunk stereotype. ... It's not the typical picture you see portrayed in the media of the old, craggy guy living on the street. That's not the typical homeless person. They're just people."

Williams said many homeless people heading families have a severe or permanent disability that prevents them from working.

Potential residents will have background checks. Sex offenders will not be allowed to live in the complex. Why thats even a question, Ive no idea. But it is, and they wont.

However -- cue the ominous music and background thunder -- some residents may have criminal records and alcohol will be allowed. In other words, it will be just like any other apartment building.

Funny, though, you don't see neighbors carrying pitchforks and torches to city council meetings when other apartment complexes are routinely approved. Even -- cue the ominous music and background thunder again -- low-income apartments. For some reason, people believe homeless families carry the Black Death or will be roaming the streets in predatory packs like rabid wolves.

It's cold and shameful.

The mayor, by the way, wouldn't hesitate to have these apartments in her backyard.

"I would love to see this in my neighborhood," said Williams, who lives between Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia. "My neighborhood would probably rise up and help these families. I know they would."

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on 790 KFGO-AM. His program airs weekdays from 2-5 p.m. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)