South Dakota sees an increase in homelessness

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ABERDEEN - The number of homeless people in South Dakota has seen a dramatic increase over the past year.

Last year there were 1036 homeless people but the South Dakota Housing for Homeless Consortium says the state has seen a 14% increase in people with nowhere to call home with just under 1200 people now homeless in South Dakota.

officials say there are 1186 homeless people in South Dakota, with 19 of those people coming from Aberdeen. But those numbers don't necessarily reflect the full scope of homelessness in the state.

"I was just not paying attention to what I was doing, I was just on drugs and drinking, spending my money on that and not paying my rent," says Juan Chavez, a resident at the Journey Home shelter

Chavez has lived in Journey Home since February after the drug and alcohol abuse led to his eviction.

"I think it was me not really caring about anything just getting hooked on one thing and just wanting to do that all the time," explains Chavez.

His story is like many others in the state. Over 1100 people here have nowhere to stay in the 29 counties that were counted, including Brown County.

"We counted 19 people who met the federal definition of homelessness which is staying in a shelter, living in a place that's not meant for habitation like a car," says Suzy Cope, the case manager for Journey Home.

But Journey Home employees help far more than 19 people. Last year, they met with 306 residents. The director says drug abuse and broken relationships have helped fuel the poverty.

"Do I think things have changed in Aberdeen? No I really don't, not at all," says Devin Hebeisen, the director of Journey Home and the pastor of The Journey, the church that's attached to the shelter. "Not in the last couple of years. So I don't think the numbers are accurate when it comes down to these small numbers."

But Chavez's story is heading towards a positive outlook. He has a new job and he's saving up for his own place.

"I got God on my side, I have them on my side so everything for me is going really good," says Chavez.

The Journey Home's goal is for everyone to get on their feet like Chavez.