BEMIDJI -- Following the deaths of two homeless men last year, the Nameless Coalition for the Homeless was formed in Bemidji.
One of the issues facing the group was to get a better handle on just what the homeless population is in Bemidji and the surrounding area. On Monday, the coalition, along with key community members including law enforcement and city and Beltrami County officials, heard back from a Duluth-based company that completed a study on the homeless in the region.
Center City Housing (CCH), started the needs assessment study for Bemidji in the fall. Data collected indicated homelessness is a regional problem, not specific to Bemidji alone. It affects people in rural communities as well as the three reservations that border Bemidji -- Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth.
"Some of the initial conversations were with Bemidji folks," said Patty Beech, CCH Planning Consultant and primary author of the study. "As we had conversations, it became clear that the issue is broader and Bemidji is a regional center where people come to work and to live and to shop."
Statewide survey results for the 12-county Northwest region, which includes Beltrami County, show homelessness grew 170 percent from 2009 to 2012. There were 666 people identified as homeless in 2012, according to the study. Survey results do not include homeless counts on reservations. Beech said. According to the study, American Indians are over-represented in the homeless population.
"What we've learned is your needs are huge," said Rick Klun, CCH executive director told the group. "Way bigger than we thought they were ever going to be."
CCH is a housing development and management company whose properties include low-income housing, supportive housing, as well as living facilities that allow for consumption of alcohol. The San Marco facility, a CCH apartment building that allows alcohol, has proven successful in Duluth. CCH has also developed facilities in St. Cloud and Rochester.
Klun said the model of housing usually includes 24/7 staffing on the site, which requires at least 50 units. Housing options being explored are initially focussed on homeless single adults and chronic inebriates, officials said.
While CCH is able to help the Bemidji area move forward, Klun said it takes time for projects to incubate. He was first contacted by Carol Priest with the Nameless Coalition three years ago.
"It is an emergency and we need to do something right now," said Nameless Coalition chairman Mike Bredon. The study showed 37 homeless people in Bemidji are chronic inebriates.
Tim Flathers of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission invited CCH to present findings on Monday. Flathers said Center City has expressed interest in serving as a developer of a local project.
Nancy Cashman, supportive housing director with CCH, said projects are partner-based and three financial components need to be addressed for the project to be a successful: capital money, operations funding and support services provision. Next, a development team is created, then site selection and community meetings follow.
Cashman said the needs assessment study will help the Bemidji area with raising funds to create a facility.
"We have done a great job in this community with developing resources for families, a fantastic job. The services, the shelter, the Village of Hope, Conifer Estates, but it's not enough," Beech said one of the 33 key informants to the study reported. "Once housed, families need services and support to remain stable."
The Bemidji area has had success with Conifer Estates as transitional housing, but residents continue to need the services offered and affordable rent so they haven't vacated the units for other homeless individuals, officials said. Servants of Shelter, Village of Hope and the homeless shelter in Red Lake are available to assist families and Peoples Church is open to anybody.