FARGO-Fraser Ltd. seeks what one lawyer calls an urgent appropriation of the state to maintain shelter and care for at-risk youth through its Stepping Stones resource center.
The center, established in Fargo 14 years ago, serves youth 16 and older as well as young adults up to 26, many of whom are homeless and drug addicted; some are suicidal.
Fraser originally requested a $2 million appropriation as part of the budget bill from the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services, but the amount was reduced to approximately $300,000.
The center serves troubled youth who come to Fargo from across the state, often in crisis and “out of breath,” said Bruce Murry, a Fraser lobbyist.
“Kids are hitting the road, and Fargo is a real magnet for young people in North Dakota,” he said.
Since the pandemic, the Stepping Stones Resource Center has faced an increase in the number of young people seeking help, including accommodation, nutrition, hygiene, mental health stabilization as well as help with work and childcare.
Due to growing demand for services, maintaining assistance at current levels “is not sustainable without support from the state and perhaps other government entities,” Murry said.
“Young adults really struggle,” he said.
Many of those served at Stepping Stones are largely invisible, seeking to avoid the foster care system, said Sandra Leyland, CEO and president of Fraser.
“It often leads to couch jumping, suicide, sex trafficking, drug use and overdose,” Leyland said in written testimony asking for state financial assistance.
During the winter, the Stepping Stones Resource Center is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and operating at full capacity, accommodating 20 clients, Leyland said.
“It’s unprecedented,” she said. “That’s our limit.”
The center would provide round-the-clock services year-round if it had the funds, Leyland said. “When a child is in crisis, they need attention immediately,” she said.
The vast majority of the recovery center’s funds – 88% – come from donors, grants and in-kind contributions. The remaining 12% comes from state aid.
Although lawmakers rejected $2 million, there appears to be support for providing $300,000 from funds the state received from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act, a bill COVID-19 relief, Murry said.
This level of funding, he said, would provide “basic life support, hopefully enough to replace dwindling donations.” He added: “It’s very urgent.”
A $300,000 appropriation for the next biennium that a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider early the week of April 10 would send the message that the state supports Fraser’s services, Murry said. .
The funding would be attached as an amendment to Senate Bill 2012, a budget bill for the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services.
Even if the appropriations envisaged are much lower than those requested, they would still help pay for the costs of running the services, Leyland said.
“We have a very meager budget,” she said. Crisis services provided by the Stepping Stones Resource Center helped prevent some admissions to local psychiatric hospitals, according to Fraser.
Among young people seeking help at the Stepping Stones Resource Center, 79% had a mental health diagnosis, 62% had a drug addiction diagnosis and 30% were survivors of human trafficking, according to Erica Markle, administrator of the center’s transitional services program for young people.
“Many young people have informed me that they plan to end their lives before entering our services,” Markle said in written testimony.
Fraser’s credit request is strictly to pay for operating expenses of the programs and not to help pay for a new $6 million building that will allow Stepping Stones to expand its services, Leyland said.
The building is closed, but Fraser needs $2.5 million to complete the project. “The money is flowing in,” Leyland said. “We are getting closer. We need money to complete the building.
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