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Evergreen Shelter faces major funding loss; Officials urging community help through United Way donations

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Evergreen Shelter in Bemidji received notice Oct. 4 that it will not receive its $100,000 federal grant, a mainstay of the shelter's funding since its inception in 1977.

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Evergreen is asking for community help through United Way donations through the United Way campaign, and direct contributions after the campaign ends Nov. 1.

"We know this is not a wealthy community," Becky Schueller, executive director, said in a press release. "We want supporters to know that all support is welcome and appreciated."

Evergreen is a fully staffed youth crisis shelter that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each year, 350 youth and an additional 150 families come through the Evergreen Shelter's doors for shelter care and family support.

The federal Basic Shelter grant, funded by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, allows the shelter to provide free early-intervention services to community youth and families. The grant is through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Family and Youth Bureau and is competitively renewed every three years.

This past summer, Evergreen submitted the shelter's grant application with confidence that it would be renewed because of need. The shelter had been busier than ever and had had to turn away youth during spring and early summer. Shelter outcomes, particularly for family reunification, are among the best in the nation, Evergreen said in the news release.

The proposal made it through the peer review process and was one of 10 proposals sent to Washington, D.C., for funding, but there was only money to find eight.

For the first time in 34 years, Evergreen was not funded.

Over the last several years, counties have experienced major budget cuts. This makes it more difficult to carry out essential duties involved in child protection, assessment and keeping children safe. The Basic Center funding gave the Evergreen Shelter flexibility to offer prevention and early intervention services when these services had dried up at the county level. The shelter has had a role in literally hundreds of child protection interventions, but is particularly effective in supporting families through homelessness or when a son or daughter had run away.

Like the rest of the nation, area families have been hit hard by the double dip recession, loss of jobs, especially in the logging industry, and foreclosures, the news release stated, adding that these all drive up family stress levels, which are strongly linked to conflict and family violence.

"It fits the trend, that we would get ignored along with runaway and homeless youth and families as the government tries to cut costs to deal with the deficit," Program Director Gary Russell said. "Should it be done at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our society?"

According to Schueller, when funding gets tight, the scarce available funding goes to major metropolitan programs. This is unfortunate as 95 percent of Minnesota's philanthropic resources are not available in the greater Bemidji area, despite the fact that Minnesota has historically been one of the top 5 philanthropic markets in the United States, she said.

"Unfortunately, you can't cut your way out of a $100,000 loss," Schueller said. "We will, of course, make prudent cuts to reduce expenses where possible." Schueller continued, "The Evergreen Shelter has full-time, core staff who have been with the program more than ten years. This is an incredible accomplishment in a high turnover field. When you cut these positions, you are cutting the essential ingredient that makes the Evergreen Shelter a high quality, safe place for kids. Historically, there have been many abuses in other children's residential programs. The Evergreen Shelter has an enviable safety record, and high quality staff are a large part of the reason."

Evergreen staff and board members are strategizing to develop ways to continue to serve area youth and families while hoping for another opportunity to compete for runaway and homeless youth funding in a future year.

In the meantime, community support can help. The Evergreen Shelter is a United Way agency and support for United Way helps the Shelter. The annual United Way campaign started Sept. 1 and concludes Oct. 31. Evergreen urges community members to make a pledge or contribution. After Nov. 1, the shelter welcomes direct contributions from the community.

Send contributions to Evergreen Youth & Family Services, P.O. Box 662, Bemidji, MN 56619.

For details, call Schueller at 751-8223, Ext. 119.

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