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Booming Economy Missing Some

February 16, 2014, 10:16 PM by Sammi Bjelland

Booming Economy Missing Some

The Sioux Falls economy is often called "booming". But that doesn't mean everyone is enjoying the perks of a growing community.

Several non-profits are seeing big increases in demand, and even the school district is seeing a rise in children who need assistance.

Sioux Falls often makes national lists for its low unemployment rate and high quality of life. But not everyone is feeling the blessings of the boom.

"At least I have some place to stay for the winter. Every night I come and get a cot. Go to sleep. I've got blankets, I've got pillows. You know, I have no complaints," CT said. 

One young man we talked with at the Salvation Army Warming Center, who asked us not to show his face, says ever since he came to Sioux Falls 8 years ago, he's struggled to make ends-meet.

He's not alone.

Even with an unemployment rate at around 3-percent, there are still more than 600 people in Sioux Falls considered homeless.

"It's challenging for us in Sioux Falls to understand, because we have a growing economy. We have a healthy economy. We have always had low unemployment rates. But what we find is we've got wages, that many times don't allow people to pay for the rent and pay for the expenses that go in to doing what it is," Carol Muller said.

Carol Muller with Minnehaha County Human Services says one thing that could always be improved is job training.

"You know, skilled labor is an important part of any economy out there. And training needs to be happening all the time for all of us in the workforce to be looking at." Muller said. 

"Most jobs now-a-days, especially in the business field, are looking for people who have more experience. So they will waste less money training someone new, when they have someone who has experience to say OK, come on. We don't have to waste money on a new hire," CT said. 

"They're trying to tell us there are jobs. But the jobs that they're giving us are crap. For lack of better words," David Edwards said. 

David Edwards came to the city a few months ago, and says the only work he's been able to find, without a GED, are temporary positions.

"It's not really enough to put on a resume. When you look at a resume and you see like 40 different jobs but they all lasted a couple days or maybe even two weeks, it really looks bad on a person that's filling out the application," Edwards said. 

A lack of steady work also makes it tough for people to find a place to stay.

Muller believes affordable housing is one of the biggest obstacles facing the city right now.

"The challenge continues to be is that our vacancy rate is still very low. And that affordability level is still a challenge for many people, who make minimum wage or less than $15 an hour, to go through and find a place to live that they can afford," Muller said. 

"Right now I've applied to Sioux Falls Housing back in 2009. But my name won't come to the top of the list until at least another year. And I've been trying to find housing but it's really tough right now," CT said. 

It's not just adults living in shelters and warming centers.

Of the 600 homeless in the city, about 200 of those are children.

The Sioux Falls School District is required by federal law to offer free and reduced lunches to students in need. In 2013, nearly half of students were using the resource. Up 2-percent from the previous year.

"When we look across the economy, across the nation, we know that there are stresses that are causing families to look at ways they might be able to have some assistance within their own homes for meals. And this is one of those that's made available," Child Nutrition Services Supervisor, Joni Davis said. 

Even though required by law, Joni Davis with the School District says it's a valuable asset the district is proud to offer.

"Obviously very pleased when you're working with families and kids and you know that there are lots of things that impact their own personal budgets and how the families are able to negotiate and pay for meals and so this is a wonderful benefit that we see that's available," Davis said. 

The Free and Reduced Lunch programs are given out based on federal poverty levels.

Minnehaha County Human Services also uses federal guidelines for its resources. But the numbers can be hard to grasp.

"Not everybody who comes to us fits our guidelines. Keep in mind that for us, we only serve at 100 percent of the federal poverty level. And for a single person, you're talking about $11,000 to $12,000 a year. For a family of four, it's right around $23,500, is what that federal poverty level is. And I think we all recognize, those are still very, very low numbers," said Muller. 

While there are thousands utilizing programs including SNAP, not everyone is content relying on others forever.

"I've grown up in mostly group homes, you know places like these. Just basically being homeless. And these are the kind of places that's in a way normal for me. But it's not the way I want to live my whole life," said CT. 

"If anybody wants to say that the homeless community is not trying, OK yeah. There are some exceptions that are not trying. There are some that are making it look bad for the rest of us. But the majority of us are actually trying. It's just that nobody wants to give us a chance," said Edwards, "It's just getting disrespectful at this point. Because now everybody treats us as if we're bad people, and not all of us are," Edwards said.

The City of Sioux Falls recently gave a loan to a local contractor, to help build more affordable housing in the area.

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