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For families living on the streets and in shelters, with no place to call home, finding a safe place to maintain social distancing and keep the family safe is almost impossible, but with the continued dedication of New Pathways and community volunteers, there are options for those in need.

“New Pathways has served families experiencing homelessness since 2000, we are celebrating our 20th birthday in September. Since we opened our doors we have served 907 families with 1,893 children. Currently we have two programs operating in Cambridge that serve the surrounding community, the Path to Home Shelter Program and the Supportive Housing Program,” said New Pathways Executive Director Mary Westlund. “The Path to Home Shelter Program serves families with children experiencing homelessness from Isanti, Chisago, Pine, Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties. The program serves five families at a time, not exceeding 20 people.

“New Pathways provides the Day Center, where families receive supportive services including advocacy, life skills, employment and housing services by an experienced case manager. During the evenings, the program partners with area churches to provide the night shelter and meals. This program is set up to serve families in need as soon as possible, providing safe shelter, all basic needs and to quickly get them into their own housing,” Westlund added.

With the current pandemic causing concern about those not practicing social distancing and being contagious, New Pathways has had to make drastic changes to their methods of serving the local homeless population.

“The Path to Home program has changed significantly. Our partnership with area churches to provide the night shelter, although pre-pandemic worked very well and provided amazing support, in a pandemic it is too risky. Those experiencing homelessness are among the Minnesotans most vulnerable to serious health impacts of COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions and often the lack of reliable health care. In addition, it is estimated that a majority of our church volunteers are considered high risk as well,” Westlund said. “On an average week, families in our program come in contact with 65 different volunteers. The exposure rate and risk is too high at this point in time. Now we are serving families in single-shelter sites, like hotels, while our partnering churches are providing meals. Currently we are serving three families with the plan to eventually serve our full capacity, five, once funding can be secured.

“Staff continues to work with families in person when needed but remotely as well. This transition is going surprisingly well, leading staff to believe we could sustain this model change as long as necessary if funding is available to support it,” Westlund added.

One of the struggles New Pathways faces now is securing enough funding to serve the families in the program.

“The biggest struggle is funding. This change was unexpected and not in our budget. Thanks to a number of area churches who provided hotel money, we have been able to stay open while we are waiting on grants and some local fundraising to happen. It has also been a struggle not being able to serve our full capacity. We hope soon, we will have the financial means to provide single-space shelter to five families,” Westlund said.

While the need for services seems to be the same as prior to the pandemic, Westlund is bracing for an increase as seen in the past when the economy has struggled.

“Currently the need has stayed about the same. We do anticipate, that very soon, the need will greatly increase much like it did during the last recession. Those who were struggling to survive pre-pandemic won’t be able to hold on for much longer. Especially once the additional support available stops or runs out of funding,” Westlund said. “After the last recession, it look many years for our numbers to stabilize and go back to ‘normal.’ At its peak, we were turning away double than what we serve in one year in just one month. We expect this situation to be much more devastating. We are committed to fight to keep our programs open so we can be here for our friends and neighbors when they need us.”

Looking to the community for support

With the governor’s orders to continue social distancing, annual fundraisers and standard fundraising efforts of New Pathways have been postponed, so in order to continue to offer services to families struggling with shelter, the community is vital in providing support.

“We need financial support. Our annual fundraiser, Troutlily Fest, is postponed with not a date on the books yet. We needed to raise $30,000 from that fundraiser this spring to operate our typical program. Now the need is even greater with us providing single-space sheltering,” Westlund said.

Give at Home Campaign

Due to the inability to host their typical fundraisers, New Pathways is one of many organizations participating in an online fundraiser called the Give at Home Campaign.

“We are participating in the GiveMN Give at Home Campaign May 1-8. It’s an online fundraiser. If you go to our GiveMN fundraising page at the link provided you will get all the details of the fundraiser,” Westlund said. “If we are the first to raise $3,000 during the Give at Home Campaign, the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls will give us $3,000 to match. Your support will help us solve the homeless crisis in Central Minnesota where services and supports are scarce. It will give a family a chance — a chance to have a safe place to sleep, to take a hot shower and put on clean clothes, to work with skilled staff who can help assess their needs and develop a plan to get into a home of their own, and a chance to do many of the things we take for granted.”

For more information on the fundraiser, or to donate, visit www.givemn.org/story/Npi-Giveathome.

“Please follow us on Facebook @newpathwaysmn and help by sharing our posts to increase local awareness and support. We are also in need of board members. Right now meetings are held remotely. If interested please contact me at 763-691-2101 Extension 7,” Westlund said.

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