A special meeting to discuss the Emergency Homeless Shelter proposed for the Akeley Regional Community Center will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at city hall.
Lori Muller, the vice chair of the ARCC board, came to Akeley’s city council meeting Feb. 12 requesting a letter of support for the shelter’s application to the state, adding the state government is very supportive of the ARCCs plan.
Muller also spoke about the shelter’s purpose and plans moving forward.
“We need a letter of support from the city,” she said. “I know there have been a lot of misconceptions about this shelter, so I just want to clear some things up. The shelter we’re putting in is to serve people here in Akeley, Nevis, Walker, Hackensack. We’ll have a couple of family units and beds for single people. We’re not looking at a large number, the permit is for 22 people.”
Muller said they are in the process of setting up a shelter board.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do yet to figure everything out,” she said. “This is the next step in the process is your letter of support. It’s just to say that you guys agree we need a shelter, that there is a homeless problem in this area. It’s hidden more in these rural areas. Especially with it being as cold as it is tonight, you have a lot of couch surfing, going from house to house.”
Muller said in the summer months some people live in their cars or in tents in the woods.
“I know of several families here in Akeley who are currently in a homeless situation and could use this service,” she said. “There definitely is a need and we definitely have a lot of community support behind it also.”
Muller explained people aren’t going to be moving in permanently. “It’s an emergency homeless shelter, a temporary fix” she said. “We want to help people succeed and get back into life. Studies have shown that most people who are homeless right now are the transient homeless, the working homeless. They have jobs and stuff but they got laid off, or evicted, or their house got foreclosed on and they’re in a transitional period.”
Muller said a study from 2018 showed there was a 36 percent increase in homelessness in greater Minnesota.
“For about 32 percent, it is their first time being homeless,” she said. “A lot of people in this area live paycheck to paycheck. You miss one paycheck and things can go sour very quickly. Our goal is to support people, help them get back on their feet again so they can be productive members of our community.”
Muller said a lot of names have been “thrown around” the community with regards to the proposed shelter, including the Battered Women’s Shelter. “The official name we’re using is Emergency Homeless Shelter,” she said. “It will be mostly for families and women.”
Council member Bobbie Wosika asked Muller what she meant by “short term.”
“It might be a couple months or up to a year,” Muller said. “I’ve been doing social work for 23 years so I have dealt with a lot of homeless shelters. Most of them run that way.”
Police Chief Jimmy Hansen said that when he looked for homeless shelters he couldn’t find anything closer than Fargo or St. Cloud.
“They have a few places in Brainerd or Bemidji where churches will open their doors when it’s like the weather we’re having tonight so people can go there but nothing permanent,” he said.
Council member Dan Riggs if there would be a screening process for those seeking shelter, and Muller said there definitely would be.
“We don’t know what that is yet,” she said. “That’s why we’re trying to get a board, visit other shelters so we can borrow their policies and procedures instead of reinventing the wheel so we can have a good solid foundation when we open.”
“Where I was going with that is we don’t want to open a shelter for drug users,” Riggs said.
“We don’t know what the screening process is yet,” Muller said. “We’re going to see how other shelters work this and find what’s best for us. The people we are opening the shelter for is our local people. So if they’re having drug problems, they’re already here. They could already be living down the street on somebody else’s couch. I think most people in the community support this project. We’ve heard very few negatives. We’re not asking for money or personnel.”
Kristin Fake asked if it would be sufficient for the city to draft a letter stating they are not opposed to the project and that the use is acceptable in the ARCC location. Muller said yes.
“So the city doesn’t have to take a stand, just say they’re not opposed,” Fake said.