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Supportive housing filling Bemidji need

BEMIDJI – A single mom credits a local nonprofit with giving her the skills – and a home – as she’s worked toward achieving her life goals.

Chelsey Durant, 20, a single mother of an infant and preschooler, has been staying in one of six supportive-housing units constructed for Evergreen Youth & Family Services.

“It’s a place I can call somewhat my own for a period of time,” said Durant, who is preparing to transition to a more permanent housing program this spring. “It helped me become more independent. I’d never been independent before. Now, through Evergreen, I can go off and do these things on my own.”

Evergreen’s supportive-housing units were constructed above Evergreen’s new offices at 610 Patriot Drive NW, and were designed to serve young adults needing transitional assistance.

Supportive housing, which combines housing and services to help residents establish more stable lives, is one of several topics to be discussed next week during Evergreen’s annual conference, March 21-22 at the Sanford Center.

The conference, which started in 2006 and draws 300-some attendees, will feature more than 25 sessions this year. One of the keynote addresses will be given by Rick Klun, executive director of Center City Housing in Duluth, on “Supportive Housing & Other Harm Reduction Strategies to Support Youth & Families.”

But supportive housing is not limited to youth; it also serves adults and families.

In Bemidji, supportive housing is available at Conifer Estates, a 20-unit townhome development off of 15th St. NW, that opened in July, offering one-, two- and three-bedroom townhomes to individuals and families dealing with long-term homelessness.

“We’re trying to accommodate them all,” said Chad Nelson, with D.W. Jones, which manages the complex.

The facility has proven popular. Nelson said there is a waiting list with more than 100 potential tenants – a combination of families and individuals – who wish to occupy a unit.

“We’ve got a great bunch of service providers, which is key,” Nelson said.

Service providers include BiCAP, or Bi-County Community Action Programs, and the Leech Lake and Red Lake tribes.

Barb Meuers, tenant coordinator at the site through BiCAP, said tenants are thrilled when they get into a unit.

“They love Conifer,” she said. “They are full of joy, which they don’t hide.”

Meuers said staff sponsors classes, such as financial literacy and cooking on a budget, and also works with tenants to help them seek employment. A computer is available for those needing resumes, and they are notified of upcoming job fairs.

“We really like to encourage them,” Meuers said. “It’s a wonderful place with great people.”

Minnesota has more than 10,200 homeless residents, according to the 2012 Minnesota Homeless Study from the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

The study, available at, found 7,993 homeless people in Minnesota shelters and 2,221 homeless people not in shelters.

In northwest Minnesota, Wilder found 666 homeless people, 377 in shelters and 289 not in shelters.

Of those, 107 were young adults aged 18-21.

Durant, who previously was staying with family members, said she heard about Evergreen’s supportive housing program as she progressed through Evergreen’s independent living skills classes, which teach skills such as financial planning and budgeting, parenting skills and the responsibilities of a successful tenant.

“It’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but it’s well worth it,” she said of Evergreen’s programming.

Through Evergreen, Durant also linked up with BiCAP’s YouthBuild, which provides youth academics, leadership development and construction training. She said she should obtain her high school diploma within two months and then plans to take college courses as she pursues a degree in criminal justice or science.

“Just being involved with Evergreen, learning what they taught me, it makes me want to do bigger things,” she said. “I can do anything I want to do.”