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A beautiful cedar sign graces the front of the Village of Hope. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Shelter dates back to 1985

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

A Bemidji couple, Pat and Jaclyn Whiting, initiated Bemidji's first homeless shelter in 1985.

According to a Dec. 22, 1985, Bemidji Pioneer article, the Whitings had thought of becoming missionaries, but realized they could reach out to people in their home town.

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They named their project Ours to Serve House of Hospitality, reflecting the message of Matthew, Chapter 25, which details a parable through which Jesus encourages people to help one another by feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

The shelter was also based on the example of Dorothy Day, an early 20th century American journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert who advocated the economic theory of "Distributism," which combines direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent action on their behalf.

The Whitings opened the shelter at 416 Irvine Ave. N.W. with Jaclyn Whiting serving as the first director.

With remodels, repairs and support from benefit concerts and other fundraisers, House of Hospitality served the community for 25 years until the board of directors closed the shelter in December because of building code issues.

After more than five years of planning, the new $1.4 million Village of Hope is ready to open in the 500 block of Mississippi Avenue Northwest.

The need for a new shelter that would house more than the six people House of Hospitality could accommodate had been obvious for years based on the number of homeless people turned away each year.

The serious planning began when Rebecca Hoffman, shelter director, took on the challenge as chair of the new facility committee in December 2006.

E In 2006, the United Way of Bemidji Area contributed a $2,500 ventures grant to allow the committee to assess the community perceptions of need.

E In March 2007, Hoffman visited the Red Lake Nation and Jane Barrett of the Red Lake Housing Authority to see what successes the Red Lake Band of Chippewa had in helping the homeless. Barrett arranged for Red Lake to donate the first $50,000 in predevelopment funds. Hoffman said the initial contributions are the most difficult to obtain, and the most important because they can leverage funds from other organizations.

"That was the turning point," Hoffman said. "The $50,000 propelled us farther."

Also in 2007, Tim Flathers of Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and former House of Hospitality Board member, became involved. He and Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Heltzer suggested contacting then-state Rep. Frank Moe for help. Moe was going to be in Bemidji for a meeting and agreed to visit with Hoffman. Moe tackled the plan, Hoffman said, and became a member of the House Public Health and Housing Finance Committee, which asked for $10 million bonding for Minnesota Housing and Finance Agency. The House approved $1 million, and House of Hospitality applied to MHFA for the funds in a grant competition.

Part of the grant requirement was local financial backing. The Beltrami County Board rejected the House of Hospitality request, and the Bemidji City Council had a moratorium on funding nonprofits. However, Hoffman said, City Councilor Nancy Erickson proposed that the city pay for the water and sewer services, as well as the building permit, and the motion passed.

As another requirement in obtaining the $1 million grant, House of Hospitality had to have a purchase agreement for the land. The property, about six city lots in the 500 block of Irvine Avenue Northwest, was owned by the North Country Regional Hospital board. The asking price was $145,000, but House of Hospitality could only offer $80,000. The hospital board agreed to the offer and the project progressed.

"This was the only place the shelter could be located," Hoffman said.

House of Hospitality board members also had to obtain a public ownership entity, which in April 2007 became the Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

They received word in the fall of 2007 that the MHFA grant was theirs.

"Oct. 23, 2007, at 3:30 p.m., we got the call," Hoffman said.

House of Hospitality then hired MHFA-recommended Barb Broen of Broen Housing in St. Paul as development consultant and attorney Angela Christy of Faegre and Benson in Minneapolis as their lawyer.

E Early in 2008, House of Hospitality hired the design and builders group of Kuepers from the Brainerd-Baxter area. Hoffman sent six photos of the neighborhood and a note describing the style of house they needed.

"I want it to be a bungalow - I want it to look like a home," she said. "I wanted this to bring Bemidji up, not down."

Winter 2008 was a low time in relation to the project, Hoffman said. The closing documents are in a binder about 4 inches thick, and each of the documents had to be correctly submitted, a daunting task, at the same time as she was serving as shelter director. Part of her job meant leaving home at midnight to fill in for absent shelter employees, who staff the house 24 hours a day at minimum wages with no benefits.

"I was this close to walking away from this project," she said.

She said the absolute bottom came in May 2008 when she was called three times in one week in the middle of the night to substitute for someone who didn't show up for a shift. As she watched the sun come up one of those mornings, she was brainstorming with House of Hospitality guests about what would make the new shelter better. The first of these answers was to include staff residences on site.

E The design process was going along well until June 2009 when the state changed the specifications for the building. Hoffman said Kuepers architects were heroes in that the company, which was paid a flat fee for the work, went back to the beginning and redesigned the plans to fit the new requirements.

To receive the MHFA funding, they also had to close on the property by the end of December 2009, but paperwork threatened to stall the process.

"Every time we turned around, they said, 'No, you need another form,'" Hoffman said. "That was another low point."

E In November 2009, Hoffman had the opportunity to spend a month in Japan on a Rotary Group Study Exchange. The House of Hospitality board approved her leave, and she took a break from the project. She also missed work for December 2009 because of health issues. However, she said those two months were a useful respite for her.

E The final push for the completion of the plans ran from January to April 2010. Hoffman said they secured $100,000 from the Neilson Foundation for kitchen equipment and were able to hold the groundbreaking ceremony April 29.

"Getting the million dollars was not the highlight for me," she said. "It was that (groundbreaking)day. The work was done, and all you had to do was implement it."

E Village of Hope will continue to add amenities. On Jan. 26, Jordan Hickman, representing the Bemidji Rotary Club, proposed the possibility of the club's building a playground at the shelter. When the playground becomes a reality, Hoffman said she envisions it being a gathering place for children all over the neighborhood, not just Village of Hope tenants. She said the Beltrami County Master Gardeners also have suggested establish a garden at the shelter.

E From 4-7 p.m., with a ribbon cutting at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 3 Village of Hope will hold open house for the community. At 8 a.m. Friday, Feb. 4, the first tenants will move in.

A Bemidji couple, Pat and Jaclyn Whiting, initiated Bemidji's first homeless shelter in 1985.

According to a Dec. 22, 1985, Bemidji Pioneer article, the Whitings had thought of becoming missionaries, but realized they could reach out to people in their home town.

They named their project Ours to Serve House of Hospitality, reflecting the message of Matthew, Chapter 25, which details a parable through which Jesus encourages people to help one another by feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

The shelter was also based on the example of Dorothy Day, an early 20th century American journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert who advocated the economic theory of "Distributism," which combines direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent action on their behalf.

The Whitings opened the shelter at 416 Irvine Ave. N.W. with Jaclyn Whiting serving as the first director.

With remodels, repairs and support from benefit concerts and other fundraisers, House of Hospitality served the community for 25 years until the board of directors closed the shelter in December because of building code issues.

After more than five years of planning, the new $1.4 million Village of Hope is ready to open in the 500 block of Mississippi Avenue Northwest.

The need for a new shelter that would house more than the six people House of Hospitality could accommodate had been obvious for years based on the number of homeless people turned away each year.

The serious planning began when Rebecca Hoffman, shelter director, took on the challenge as chair of the new facility committee in December 2006.

- In 2006, the United Way of Bemidji Area contributed a $2,500 ventures grant to allow the committee to assess the community perceptions of need.

- In March 2007, Hoffman visited the Red Lake Nation and Jane Barrett of the Red Lake Housing Authority to see what successes the Red Lake Band of Chippewa had in helping the homeless. Barrett arranged for Red Lake to donate the first $50,000 in predevelopment funds. Hoffman said the initial contributions are the most difficult to obtain, and the most important because they can leverage funds from other organizations.

"That was the turning point," Hoffman said. "The $50,000 propelled us farther."

Also in 2007, Tim Flathers of Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and former House of Hospitality Board member, became involved. He and Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Heltzer suggested contacting then-state Rep. Frank Moe for help. Moe was going to be in Bemidji for a meeting and agreed to visit with Hoffman. Moe tackled the plan, Hoffman said, and became a member of the House Public Health and Housing Finance Committee, which asked for $10 million bonding for Minnesota Housing and Finance Agency. The House approved $1 million, and House of Hospitality applied to MHFA for the funds in a grant competition.

Part of the grant requirement was local financial backing. The Beltrami County Board rejected the House of Hospitality request, and the Bemidji City Council had a moratorium on funding nonprofits. However, Hoffman said, City Councilor Nancy Erickson proposed that the city pay for the water and sewer services, as well as the building permit, and the motion passed.

As another requirement in obtaining the $1 million grant, House of Hospitality had to have a purchase agreement for the land. The property, about six city lots in the 500 block of Irvine Avenue Northwest, was owned by the North Country Regional Hospital board. The asking price was $145,000, but House of Hospitality could only offer $80,000. The hospital board agreed to the offer and the project progressed.

"This was the only place the shelter could be located," Hoffman said.

House of Hospitality board members also had to obtain a public ownership entity, which in April 2007 became the Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

They received word in the fall of 2007 that the MHFA grant was theirs.

"Oct. 23, 2007, at 3:30 p.m., we got the call," Hoffman said.

House of Hospitality then hired MHFA-recommended Barb Broen of Broen Housing in St. Paul as development consultant and attorney Angela Christy of Faegre and Benson in Minneapolis as their lawyer.

- Early in 2008, House of Hospitality hired the design and builders group of Kuepers from the Brainerd-Baxter area. Hoffman sent six photos of the neighborhood and a note describing the style of house they needed.

"I want it to be a bungalow - I want it to look like a home," she said. "I wanted this to bring Bemidji up, not down."

Winter 2008 was a low time in relation to the project, Hoffman said. The closing documents are in a binder about 4 inches thick, and each of the documents had to be correctly submitted, a daunting task, at the same time as she was serving as shelter director. Part of her job meant leaving home at midnight to fill in for absent shelter employees, who staff the house 24 hours a day at minimum wages with no benefits.

"I was this close to walking away from this project," she said.

She said the absolute bottom came in May 2008 when she was called three times in one week in the middle of the night to substitute for someone who didn't show up for a shift. As she watched the sun come up one of those mornings, she was brainstorming with House of Hospitality guests about what would make the new shelter better. The first of these answers was to include staff residences on site.

- The design process was going along well until June 2009 when the state changed the specifications for the building. Hoffman said Kuepers architects were heroes in that the company, which was paid a flat fee for the work, went back to the beginning and redesigned the plans to fit the new requirements.

To receive the MHFA funding, they also had to close on the property by the end of December 2009, but paperwork threatened to stall the process.

"Every time we turned around, they said, 'No, you need another form,'" Hoffman said. "That was another low point."

- In November 2009, Hoffman had the opportunity to spend a month in Japan on a Rotary Group Study Exchange. The House of Hospitality board approved her leave, and she took a break from the project. She also missed work for December 2009 because of health issues. However, she said those two months were a useful respite for her.

- The final push for the completion of the plans ran from January to April 2010. Hoffman said they secured $100,000 from the Neilson Foundation for kitchen equipment and were able to hold the groundbreaking ceremony April 29.

"Getting the million dollars was not the highlight for me," she said. "It was that (groundbreaking)day. The work was done, and all you had to do was implement it."

- Village of Hope will continue to add amenities. On Jan. 26, Jordan Hickman, representing the Bemidji Rotary Club, proposed the possibility of the club's building a playground at the shelter. When the playground becomes a reality, Hoffman said she envisions it being a gathering place for children all over the neighborhood, not just Village of Hope tenants. She said the Beltrami County Master Gardeners also have suggested establish a garden at the shelter.

- From 4-7 p.m., with a ribbon cutting at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 3 Village of Hope will hold open house for the community. At 8 a.m. Friday, Feb. 4, the first tenants will move in.

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