Inspiring music, generosity and holiday cheer will come together Saturday, as the annual giveHOPE concert benefitting Transitional Housing of Steele County returns for its eighth year.
Michael Ferch co-founded the concert along with his wife, Tammi, nine years ago. After taking a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concert series has returned full force and, organizers hope, better than ever.
The 8th annual concert will take place at 7 p.m. in the Owatonna High School auditorium. The concert is open to the public and is seeking free will donations. Sponsored by several local businesses, Ferch said every penny from the donations will benefit Transitional Housing.
“Julie and her team at Transitional Housing have a program that helps people who are struggling with homelessness become self sufficient. It’s time tested and proven to be successful,” he said. “We knew we wanted to contribute to this local organization because we live in Minnesota and from October through March, housing is important and the programs they offer are so impressive and powerful we knew we wanted to help.”
The concert will consist of around 30 vocalists and instrumentalists, Ferch said, and many of them will be familiar faces from around the community.
“Sometimes when people hear ‘Christian music,’ they assume it’s all hymns, but most of the music is very modern and contemporary,” Ferch said. “Our daughter Olivia and Brooke Meier are performing a Bruno Mars song, and the message of the song fits the occasion perfectly.”
He said guests can expect to see a production akin to a similar event in the metro area, just without the travel and ticket price.
“We’re fortunate to have such a talented community,” Ferch said. “There’s lots of talent and so many who are willing to give to those who need it, especially during the holiday season.”
The Transitional Housing Program provides individuals and families rent assistance and case management for up to two years. The client is able to advocate for themselves and largely remain in control over the apartment they live in by providing a security deposit and first month’s rent.
The case manager and client fill out budgeting worksheets together and have reevaluations every few months, and gradually the amount of assistance is decreased, so the client is able to become fully self-sufficient in managing their finances.
“The homeless population in Owatonna and Steele County is relatively hidden,” Executive Director Julie Anderson said. “We have anywhere from 30 to 50 families on a waiting list at any given time. Most of our clients are employed, but due to various life circumstances, they fall into a rut financially and can’t get out on their own.”
She said, since the eviction moratorium lifted just over a year ago, and rent prices continue to rise, she’s receiving an average of three phone calls per day from people needing help.
According to the most recent Point-In-Time count from earlier this year, 42 families were experiencing homelessness in Steele County. Anderson and her team work diligently to bring that dumber down as close to zero as possible, but funding is a major hurdle they are experiencing especially with rising rental rates.
“There’s sometimes this misconception that people are taking advantage of the system and don’t want to work, which is untrue,” she said. “People want to work. The problem is that rent is going up, and wages are staying the same. We have people living out of their cars who are working two jobs. So people are doing all the right things; the problem is life circumstances have put them in a rut; and that is why we are here — to help them get out.”
She said for those who participate in the Transitional Housing program, which lasts two years, it is only on rare occasion they come back and need services again, and those who utilize the eviction prevention program generally only need one-time assistance.
“Sometimes people have to decide between paying rent and getting their car fixed, so they can go to work, or paying rent and putting food on the table,” Anderson said. “That’s where we come in to help them avoid eviction, and they can get back on their feet. Sometimes people need that help more than once, but it is rare we see anyone come back after the two-year program, because we give them the tools they need to succeed.”