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Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe opens new homeless shelter

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe officials gather in a bedroom of the new Leech Lake Homeless Shelter. In the front row from left are Val Pacheco, of the Leech Lake development division; Ron Hare, shelter manager; Marlene Mitchell, housing division director; and Leroy Fairbanks, case manager. In the back row from left are Toni McClanahan, finance director; and Tribal Chairman Arthur LaRose. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

CASS LAKE -- The first guests of the Leech Lake Homeless Shelter moved in Monday.

With priority given to family groups, each room features a double bed, three single bunks and a trundle bed that can be pulled out to accommodate a fourth child. Each room also is equipped with a small refrigerator. A common kitchen offers simple provisions such as soup. As an added touch, volunteers in the housing division made and donated colorful bed quilts.

Ron Hare, shelter manager, said the facility will be staffed 24 hours a day and strict rules of behavior will be enforced to maintain a safe, healthy and comfortable atmosphere.

Leech Lake Housing Director Marlene Mitchell said homelessness is a major problem on the Leech Lake Reservation.

Tribal Council District III Representative Eugene "Ribs" Whitebird said homeless people regularly come to his office asking for assistance.

"We don't want to see our people homeless," Whitebird said.

"The Tribal Council, in extreme cases, will put them up in a hotel or motel if they can't find relatives," Mitchell said.

"I'm very proud of this homeless shelter," said Tribal Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose. "It's a start - and more positive things to come for the Leech Lake Reservation as a whole."

Tribal officials held an open house Friday for the 16-person-capacity shelter. Elder Mike Smith asked a blessing on the house, the caretakers and for the people in need of the services.

Mitchell said the shelter is a development with input from several entities. Superior Homes of South Dakota donated half of the building, as well as washers and dryers. Federal stimulus money allowed the tribe to complete and furnish the project at a cost of $42,000.

Working with experienced managers from the Red Lake Homeless Shelter and Ours to Serve House of Hospitality in Bemidji, the directors for the Leech Lake shelter put together a mission statement, rules of conduct and general policies. The shelter is designed as an emergency haven, which also will teach people how to find and maintain permanent housing and educate the community about the causes of and solutions to homelessness.

Stays are limited to 30 days, but can be extended another 30 days if the guests are working on goals for employment and permanent housing.

No alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs, smoking, weapons or abusive behavior is allowed. Confidentiality must be respected, children must attend school, only G, PG and PG-13 movies will be aired and guests are expected to perform household chores. They must return to the shelter by 6 p.m. daily and be dressed, finished with breakfast and chores and ready to work on goals by 8 a.m. The house is secured and locked at night and no one is allowed to leave after lockup.

"It's meant to be interim, short term," Mitchell said.