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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

“Close to Home” campaign aims to stop local homlessness

< world where social movements and political activism shout loudest, it can be difficult to compete to get a word in edgewise. Campaigns are dominated by the issues that get people to vote and people only research the topics strictly pertinent to their everyday lives. What happens to the other issues? How does a society tackle a problem that never gets talked about? How can a group effectively take-on an issue that has been forgotten for years?

The issue: homelessness. The location: Northfield, Minnesota.

The “Close to Home” campaign is working to raise awareness of the very real problem of homelessness and why it is such an invisible problem in our community. At first glance, Northfield is an affluent place dubbed the town of “cows, colleges, and contentment”. It is also a community struggling with poverty. But where is it? Does it exist if it isn’t visible? Why do politicians avoid the problem of homelessness?

The members of “Close to Home” started researching. The problem of homelessness is coupled with a legislative mess. In the 1937 Housing Act, Section 8 expanded government aid to accommodate more low-income renters. However, the Section 8 waitlist in Rice County was so long the effort was dissolved with an unfulfilled promise to start over in the future. The US department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of homelessness is vague and exclusive using terms like “homeless,” “homeless individual,” “homeless person,”   and “homeless individual with a disability,” but without sufficient explanation. These poor federal distinctions ignore the underlying problems of homelessness.

The “Close to Home” movement decided to take action to raise awareness of the issue at Carleton.

Boxes placed around campus illuminate Minnesota specific facts on homelessness. The information is from The Wilder Foundation, one of the few organizations dedicated to presenting the demographics of homelessness in Minnesota. A panel discussion with Kathy Bjerke, the administrative director of the Northfield Community Action Center, and Jennifer Kuoppala, a volunteer from the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, was sponsored. These organizations do incredible work for the homeless, but they can’t fight for federal change alone.

There are fundamental problems with the system which perpetuate poverty and provide little to no escape. There is not enough transitional and low-income housing in Minnesota. Because of a lack of resources to aid those unable to pay rent or mortgage, homelessness is hidden. People camp out, double-up, or couch-surf. The problem becomes invisible and awareness is virtually non-existent.

According to their website, the Community Action Center in Northfield provides the only emergency shelter for the homeless in all of Rice County. Individuals or families who visit the shelter can stay up to 14 days. The transitional housing program requires households to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. Units can be rented for up to 24 months while they participate in case management with a social worker and work to achieve goals ( There are 45 Northfield families who are regularly served, but there exists a substantial number who go alone.

Carleton’s ACT center runs regular trips to volunteer at the Northfield Food Shelf located in the Community Action Center. Regularly serving over 450 families, the Food Shelf is a strong effort which identifies and aids those impoverished in our community. While Thursday’s Tables is not running regularly through ACT this term, this project provides hot meals for those seeking a place to live. These direct outreaches not only raise awareness of the issue in Northfield, but promote direct contact with the affected individuals furthering an understanding of the root causes of poverty.

For more information, visit the Northfield Community Action Center website at or the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless at

To learn more and get involved in the upcoming “Close to Home” events email rukajn, soderstok, abadiana, or fritzene.

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