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Homelessness: Group wants to extend hours at Peoples Church

BEMIDJI -- A group of citizens looking to provide more help to the homeless here determined its next course of action Monday -- expanding services at Peoples Church.

Meetings began a few weeks ago with approximately a dozen concerned citizens from various non-profit groups, churches and government agencies that has grown into almost 50 attendees who filled the small space on Ninth Street NW and America Avenue.

Newly elected group spokesperson Mike Bredon will be hosting a follow-up meeting at the Upstream TV studio at 2 p.m. Dec. 2. The studio is located downstairs of Brigid’s Pub at 317 Beltrami Ave. in Bemidji.

“The momentum we have going cannot be stopped,” Bredon said.

Until then, a roster has been cultivated and recruits will be called upon to volunteer for shifts between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m to staff Peoples Church during daytime hours. The idea is to have two people on staff at all times for two 4-hour shifts a day, including weekends. Presently, the church is only staffed by live-in volunteers at night.

While the group agreed the move is a small step, they know it is a starting point. The group intends to continue hosting meetings every two weeks that will be open to the public.

Loftier ideas of a long-term facility, detox and wet house interjected the small steps conversation on Monday afternoon. Another proposition was to get students from Bemidji State University and Leech Lake Tribal College involved. Volunteer experience can fulfill intern requirements in some majors.

The Rev. Bob Kelly described what they do at Peoples Church as “spiritually based social work.”

“The big picture grows out of the little picture,” Kelly said. “We get a fair amount done here.”

With temperatures forecast to hover at about 20 degrees this week, the doors will be open and the floors will be full of beds at the church, he said. The small building is equipped to house approximately 15 people a night.

Sunny Conway asked what happens when there are 30 or more people at Peoples Church during the day and Servants of Shelter can only take in 20 that night.

“We have more than 50 homeless people in this town,” Conway said.

Peoples Church has closed its doors at night in the past during summer months. Kelly said that is something that may be reconsidered if additional volunteers are available for staffing.

“We operate on a shoestring budget here,” Kelly said.

Moving forward, the group said donations will be needed to help the homeless acquire photo identification, pay housing application fees and locate birth certificates. Bredon asked if there were any grant-writers in the collective, but none came forward.

Eugene “Ribs” Whitebird addressed the crowd and asserted how much he wants to help the homeless now.

“We have all these meetings with big shots and a long-term plan. It’s all just talk,” Whitebird said. “These people need help right now.”

When Monday’s meeting was concluding, Audrey Thayer urged people to drop off donations of food in aluminum pans to help feed visitors of the church. Peoples Church hosts a community feast at noon on Sundays. The church can be reached at (218) 368-0388.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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