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Fargo women help homeless students get clothing, senior portraits

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One is a real estate agent, the other is a photographer. Together, they're working to help homeless high school students in the Fargo area get clothing, other necessities, and even senior portraits.

Jenny Schuster, a real estate agent, teamed with photographer Michelle Warren back in 2011 for the project. It started with photos – free portraits for high school seniors who didn't have the means to get professional shots, Schuster writes.

It's since grown into an organization called Matthew's Voice Project, the goal being to "assist homeless students with more pressing day-to-day needs."

That includes getting them new or gently used clothing, a good pair of shoes, cellphones with prepaid minutes, gas cards and taxi fares to help them get to/from work, and more, according to Schuster's website.

The Forum published a profile of Matthew's Voice Project on Sunday, looking at how the project got started and how much it's grown. They also spoke with a student who benefited directly from their help and is now in college.

The FargoSchoolTalk blog recently detailed the project's holiday gift drive, which collected 98 holiday presents for students – necessities, like the things mentioned above, but also personal items such as movie tickets, grooming products and earbuds.

In 2013, the school's homeless liaison Jan Anderson wrote about how they define homelessness: It's if the student lives in a shelter, motel, car or campground; is on the street; lives in an abandoned building or trailer; or is with friends/relatives because they can't afford housing.

The FM Coalition for Homeless Persons has a list of resources for anyone who needs them, including food and meals, emergency shelters, substance abuse help and more.

A Wilder foundation study found that on a single day in October of 2012, there were 874 homeless people in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Homeless youth in Minnesota

The number of homeless youth in Minnesota has jumped 63 percent since 2009, according to Wilder Research data, and on any given night there are 4,000 youth and young adults who are homeless and unaccompanied by an adult, Avenues for Homeless Youth says.

The Minnesota Housing Partnership’s most recent 2×4 report (released last summer) asked four school districts – Duluth, Minneapolis, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, and St. Paul – for their tally of students identified as homeless.

The total for 2014-15 was 8,085.

That’s down from last year’s high of 8,333, but still more than any of the five years prior.

Last summer, 12 nonprofits collaborated to create – a website for Twin Cities-area youth that tells them where a shelter is, how to get there, any special rules – and can even notify the person if a bed becomes available.

The advantage, according to the groups: People in need don’t need to call shelters, over and over, every day, searching for a place to stay.

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