MENOMONIE — Affordable and accessible housing is becoming hard to come by in Menomonie and Dunn County, so an Oct. 2 community forum is being organized as a way to brainstorm solutions to the problem, according to community leaders.
Heidi Hooten, shelter coordinator at Stepping Stones of Dunn County, said this is the first such forum that has been arranged in the county. The Stepping Stones program provides emergency shelter, housing assistance and referral services.
Hooten said reintegrating into the community remains difficult for people who are exiting jail or prison.
“Housing is an issue that keeps coming up again and again,” she said.
From August 2016 to August 2018, Stepping Stones housed 154 people — 83 adults and 71 children — in its shelters. In that same time span, 78 people used its Winter Haven shelter during the cold months.
Hooten said three most significant barriers make finding housing difficult: poor credit, a criminal background and evictions. She said 98 percent of people seen at Stepping Stones have a credit score below 600.
Out of 86 adults that Stepping Stones recorded, 51 had a criminal background, 47 had been evicted and 29 had both. The number of adults who had two or more barriers to housing was 59. During the Winter Haven months, 71 of 78 had a criminal background, 34 had been evicted and 67 had both.
In Menomonie, the limited affordable housing is usually taken up by college students.
Corin Tubridy, homeless prevention manager at the WestCAP community action agency, said finding affordable housing that isn’t near students is a struggle for families. She said families don’t want to live near students because of their different lifestyles.
“It’s a challenge to find a place to rent,” she said.
Tubridy said there has been an increase in calls in recent years for housing assistance from within Dunn County. WestCAP also covers Barron, Chippewa, Pepin, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties.
Hooten helps teach a “Housing 101” class at the Dunn County Jail. The class instructs inmates on how to find housing, on how to be a good tenant and walks them through the application process.
The forum is from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Dunn County Community Services Building, 3001 U.S. 12 E., Menomonie. It is the former Dunn County Health Care Center building.
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