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A shelter in need of support: Evergreen Youth and Family Services to hold open house

BEMIDJI—Evergreen Youth and Family Services is opening its doors this week to showcase to the public what it does to help the people in the community.

The Evergreen crisis shelter on Mississippi Avenue will hold an open house, providing an opportunity to see the operation at work.

Dan McKeon, Evergreen executive director, said the event is part of the nonprofit's outreach effort to garner community support. The push comes after Evergreen was not awarded one of its key operating grants at the federal level.

"We're mostly grant funded, with 65 to 70 percent of the revenue coming from federal and state grants. One of those grants we've always received is the Basic Center grant, it's one of the biggest sources for our shelter," McKeon said. "This year, we lost that grant, and we have this collision happening with Beltrami County having this huge need and we're losing this grant that helps us meet that need."

About half of the youth that come to the shelter are referred by law enforcement, according to shelter program director Gary Russell.

"It happens when they intervene in unsafe situations," he said. "They can also be referred by social workers, those are what we call CHIPS investigations, or, child in need of protection services. Those are a lot of cases of abuse and neglect. If you look beyond that, there's usually substance abuse problems, too."

When children do arrive, they're given a full health check, with an assessment for trauma, histories of abuse and suicidal ideation. Russell also said an estimated 79 percent of the youth face some sort of depression.

The shelter serves children ages 9-17 and is the only shelter of its kind in a 15-county region.

"It's a pretty unique service to have in this rural area like ours," McKeon said. "Beltrami County has a rising rate of out-of-home placements, and a lot of those kids land at our shelter. It's one of the go to places for the county to bring kids if they have nowhere else to go."

Because there are always trained staff at the shelter, housing a child per night costs more than $200, Russell said. In 2017, Russell said there were nearly 300 children who stayed at the shelter, with some repeat stays.

"The total number of stays was at 361 and the average is six to seven nights per stay," Russell said. "We have eight rooms, and often there are two children to a room. However, in some cases, just for safety, we just have one child to a room. It's a situation where we're 'full before we're full.'"

Russell said the shelter does have success, and is able to reunite 96 percent of children with their families. The percent not reunited often require more care, such as an inpatient facility, Russell said.

With just over a month to go, Russell said the shelter is on track to match its 2017 numbers of youth served.

To continue serving the area youth, McKeon said it's integral for Evergreen to reach out for support from the community now.

"We didn't get the grant awarded this year, which basically extends into 2019, but we can reapply next summer and they'll announce the awarding at the end of September," McKeon said. "So, we're kind of staring down this stretch, where we have to shift the way we keep ourselves financially viable. But, if the shelter isn't there, our county's out-of-home placement issue will get worse."

One person who knows firsthand the importance the shelter is Jessica Santala, a BSU professor who at one point stayed at the Evergreen facility in her youth.

"These guys are the people that saved me and gave me the space I needed," Santala said. "It was a place where I didn't have to worry about adult things."

When children do stay at the shelter, Russell said the staff work to ensure they're in a comfortable setting.

"We have group meetings with them in the afternoon and we provide family style, sit-down meals which can create a healthy environment," Russell said. "The kids do have chores here and we work with them to have them re-enrolled at school. We also like to get the kids out of the shelter and take them to different places like the state park."

The shelter is one of the programs at the 622 Mississippi Ave. NW location, with the other centered on parent or guardian coaching. Evergreen's other location is at 610 Patriot Drive NW, and offers services such as youth and family counseling and independent living skills training.

For more information, visit or call the business office at (218) 441-4560. Thursday's event runs from 2 to 7 p.m.

If you go

What: Evergreen Youth and Family Services Open House

When: 2 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29

Where: 622 Mississippi Ave. NW.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

(218) 333-9791