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The Associated Press May 4, 2010, 1:26PM ET

Report: ND homeless population hits record level

The number of homeless people in North Dakota jumped in the past year to a record level, despite the state's solid economic footing, according to a report released Tuesday.

Volunteers counted 1,126 homeless people during a Jan. 27 survey, according to the report issued by the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People. That was up from 987 people counted last year and 836 in 2008, said Michael Carbone, the group's executive director.

More than 7,100 people are expected to experience homelessness this year, more than double the number earlier in the decade, Carbone said.

"It's the highest it's ever been," he said.

Hundreds of new jobs in North Dakota spurred largely by the boom in the state's oil patch has driven up the cost of housing, making it tough for low-income individuals and families to afford even the cheapest apartments, Carbone said.

The report said about 40 percent of the state's homeless people are employed.

"North Dakota's strong economy is widening the affordability gap in the state," Carbone said. "In part, it's driven by demand for work force housing."

Developers, still wary of the state's oil boom-and-bust cycle of the 1980s, have been slow to build new apartments or homes.

North Dakota had more than 10,000 unfilled jobs in March and the lowest jobless rate of any state, at about 4 percent, said Duane Broschat, a Job Service North Dakota spokesman.

"North Dakota's good economy has also been a draw to people who have come into the state from other areas of the country seeking employment opportunities and have not always been successful is securing housing and employment," the survey says. "Anecdotal evidence suggests this trend is on the wane and will likely reverse itself as other areas of the country experience economic recovery."

Carbone said substance abuse, mental illness and medical problems also contribute to homelessness.

One-fourth of North Dakota's homeless are children, including infants of women under 18, the survey said. Single, white men make up the majority of the homeless population.

The report has been done each year since 2001 to obtain grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. North Dakota has received about $14 million since then, Carbone said.

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