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Homelessness: Coalition formed, People’s Church to open during day

BEMIDJI -- The nameless group trudging forward in the name of homeless people’s rights this winter now has a name: Nameless Coalition for the Homeless.

After a roundtable discussion in which subcommittees were formed Monday, the talk came back, as most homeless people in the area do, to Peoples Church. The church’s doors are now open day and night on the corner of Ninth Street Northwest and America Avenue in Bemidji. Reverend Bob Kelly said they always have been.

“We’ve had several meetings where I think we’ve just kind of talked philosophically about what we might like to see or where we might like to go,” said Reed Olson, Bemidji City Councilman. “But, I think it would be great if we could come away today with a real plan of action.”

Olson’s district, Ward 4, is where many homeless people dwell in downtown Bemidji; however, Reed has never claimed to be acting on behalf of the city.

Olson was nominated to chair the Nameless Coalition for the Homeless, which is not yet official. Mike Bredon, executive director of Upstream TV, remains the coalition’s spokesperson.

“You’re talking about the county, the come none of these people are here today?” questioned Eugene “Ribs” Whitebird. “I know [Olson] is from the City Council, but I would rather have a commissioner here, somebody in power like this gentlemen here [Olson] to come over and sit on these committees.”

Olson defended county representatives, saying that Commissioner Joe Vene, Sheriff Phil Hodapp and Chief Deputy Ernie Beitel have all expressed concern over how to handle the homeless situation in Beltrami County. Olson added that he has met with city police, who also want “desperately” to have a place to bring people that isn’t the jail.

Law enforcement has been criticized for not allowing homeless people to seek shelter in the law enforcement center lobby.

“It’s not a shelter for homeless people,” Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said. “We’re not equipped, don’t have a facility or trained staff to supervise a room full of people. This is a community-wide problem. At least now there is some attention being brought to it.”

Volunteers are needed and training opportunities will be addressed at the coalition’s next meeting 2 p.m., Dec. 16 at Brigid’s Pub. The coalition is urging social work, psychology and nursing students to volunteer to staff People’s Church between 8 a.m and 4 p.m. Contact Carol Priest at (218) 760-0605 or for volunteer opportunities.

To learn more about Peoples Church, call Kelly at (218) 444-8140 or (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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