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HOMELESS: Nameless Coalition sees real picture

The Nameless Coalition for the Homeless in Bemidji has been working to reduce homelessness and increase shelter for homeless people since October. The group has established a brand with a new logo. CONTRIBUTED

BEMIDJI -- Since the Nameless Coalition for the Homeless began meeting in October, various people have sat around the table to show support. One thing has remained constant, their dedication to find a safe place for homeless people to go year-round.

"Baring other circumstances or natural or human-made disasters, Peoples Church will remain open for the summer," coalition member Carol Priest, representing Peoples Church said Monday. "Butch Ryan might not have died if the church were open. He might have had a better chance."

Ryan, 63, had been staying at the church before it expanded its hours and drown in Lake Bemidji on June 21, 2013. Priest said although people have frozen to death, there have been many homeless people who have died during warm months.

"Our main goal is to not have people die of exposure in Bemidji," said Sandy Hennum coalition member and executive director of Village of Hope.

Members of the coalition attended a needs assessment presentation by Center City Housing on May 5 in which a permanent supportive housing model in Bemidji was discussed. CCH is a Duluth-based housing development and management company whose properties include low-income housing, supportive housing, as well as living facilities that allow for consumption of alcohol.

While the project is ongoing, it may take three to five years for an actual structure to be in place. The Nameless Coalition is looking into what needs to be done to get shelter sooner.

"In the last month we have had children staying at Peoples Church," Priest said.

The idea to expand Peoples Church was explored but abandoned because there isn't enough space on the city lot and the environment isn't conducive to children's needs. Peoples Church is currently the only shelter in Bemidji where people can go if they have been consuming alcohol.

Hennum with Village of Hope said 90 children have been turned away from Village of Hope in February and March because there isn't enough room. The shelter can only take 28 individuals at a time.

The Nameless Coalition's stop-gap committee was working on identifying housing and shelter needs before the assessment was released by CCH.

"The upshot of that meeting is that it is the right time to do housing for single homeless persons including housing for chronic inebriates in terms of supportive housing," Priest said.

Priest explained the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and Center City Housing will be collaborating on how the project progresses. CCH will be the proposed developer.

Coalition member and Bemidji City Council member Reed Olson said the needs assessment done by CCH will help in approaching funding sources.

"This helps us on the stop-gap committee when going to talk to possible granting agencies to define what our goals are," Olson said. Olson added he has been in contact with representatives of Leech Lake and Red Lake who are supportive of the coalition's efforts. The reservations bordering Bemidji (Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth) also have a homeless population.

Due to time and funding constraints, a shelter is looking bleak for the winter of 2014-2015. The coalition has explored both public and private vacant buildings in the area as possible shelter sites. The city and county have been approached but nothing solid has emerged. One possibility mentioned at Monday's meeting was the Masonic Temple in downtown Bemidji, close to where homeless people "live."

"It's more efficient to have something closer to downtown," said Nameless Coalition secretary Kristi Miller.

While nothing solid, in the form of a physical structure, has amassed in the eight months the coalition has been meeting, Priest noted the group has succeeded in raising community awareness and finetuning goals.

"There are a number of goals," Miller said. "After this assessment, it seems we have landed on a goal to provide some kind of shelter for single people whether they are inebriated or not until something permanent is built."

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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