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Homelessness is hidden yet still present in county

Maria Martinez

Homelessness does exist in Hubbard County even if it's not visible to most people. Homeless can mean doubling up with others or couch hopping.

"Our definition of homelessness is different than someone living on the street," said Melody Boettcher. She works with Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and manages Cornerstone Apartments, a transitional housing unit in Park Rapids.

"There are many people in temporary housing that are homeless, though not in the traditional sense," she said.

According to a Wilder Research study in 2009, the number of homeless people has increased in Minnesota. After leveling off in the mid-2000s, the number of homeless people is much higher again, according to the study.

Maria Martinez, of Park Rapids, knows what it's like to be homeless. A recovering addict, Martinez was homeless off and on since 1983. Her addiction coincided with her homelessness.

"My addiction started when I was just trying to stay awake to take care of my kids and keep my job," she said.

Methamphetamine was Martinez's drug of choice. Martinez first became homeless in California. She found abandoned homes to live in and battled to keep her five children.

"I kind of had a double life," she said. "I wouldn't use in front of my kids and tried to be a good mom."

Eventually, Martinez made it to Minnesota and found a place to stay at Cornerstone Apartments.

"It really helped me out, they kept me on a short leash," she said.

Cornerstone consistently has a waiting list with families and individuals in need of transitional housing, Boettcher said. The people on the list are often living with another family or couch hopping, she said.

Cornerstone has eight units and 21 people living there currently.

Martinez has been sober for five years and nine months now. She credits people she has met in Park Rapids

"You learn how to appreciate when people give you something and share," she said of dealing with addiction and homelessness.

She has been sharing her story with others in Park Rapids and has found it to be helpful.

"If I can change one kid's life by telling my story, I'll do it," Martinez said.

After battling with homelessness and addiction for many years, Martinez has changed her life around.

She is now a homeowner and runs her own cleaning business. She also purchased a car.

Getting out of homelessness isn't easy. There are barriers that make it difficult, Boettcher said.

"If someone doesn't have a permanent address or phone number it's awfully hard to get a job," she said. "It often takes a helping hand to get things rolling."

At Cornerstone, many of the clients are referred to programs offered in Hubbard County to help them get back on their feet.

Boettcher and other groups are working toward getting a community mail box and are getting phone numbers with voice mail set up for people to use.

"It's a real eye opener for a lot of people," Boettcher said. "Homelessness is here in Hubbard County too."

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561