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Akeley emergency shelter needs donations

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The second floor of the Akeley Regional Community Center will provide a safe haven for women and children once renovation of the second floor of the 1908 former school building is complete. Kenny Holm (left) chairs the emergency shelter committee and Bob Fuller is a board member. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

Providing a safe haven for battered and homeless women and their children in Akeley by Sept. 1 is the goal of the Akeley Regional Community Center (ARCC) emergency shelter committee, but they need community support in the next two months to make their goal a reality.

The shelter will have a security system and be available for women and children from Akeley, Nevis, Hackensack, Park Rapids and Walker to use for transitional housing as they work on their goals of finding a job and more permanent housing.

“The biggest thing we need is donations so we can get this project through the final phase and open,” board member Bob Fuller said. “There are people up here sleeping in cars with nowhere to go.”

The 22-bed facility is currently undergoing construction and renovation. A total of $122,490 has been spent so far, including installing an elevator and fire alarm system, demolition of old bathrooms, a furnace, construction materials and a plumbing rough-in by a licensed contractor.

The ARCC thrift store, which has provided most of the funds for the project, was closed during the COVID-19 shutdown in accordance with the governor’s orders. That meant the ARCC had to use funds planned for the shelter to pay other bills since there was no income during that time.

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Shelter nearing completion

“We have spoken to representatives of local law enforcement and CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Park Rapids who have stated there is a definitive need for this shelter to be completed and become operational,” said Kenny Holm, who chairs the emergency shelter committee.

“Approximately $44,000 is needed to purchase windows, doors, fire escape and deck, flooring, ceiling materials, and to pay electrical and plumbing contractors,” he said. “That number is based on volunteers completing most of the other work.”

The shelter will also provide residents with access to many other resources, including food, clothing from the thrift store, laundry facilities, access to the ARCC library and computers, counseling services and the opportunity for employment at the thrift store.

A full-time manager will be hired to supervise the shelter with assistance from community volunteers.
“One of our partners in this project is CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Park Rapids,” Holm said. “They have already made a significant donation and we are working on grant applications as well.

Need for shelter has grown

Annette White is the director of the Family Safety Network that serves victims of domestic violence in Hubbard, Cass and Clearwater counties.

“I think there is a tremendous need for a shelter in this area,” she said. “We have Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter in Bemidji and a shelter in Brainerd, but those almost never have vacancies. You can’t go on a waiting list. You call and they either have an opening or they don’t. People who don’t have anywhere else to go keep calling. During our last report we had 24 people we had to count as homeless because we had nowhere to put them. For us to have another resource in this area for people who are trying to get out of a very dangerous situation is really important.”

White said many people leave a domestic violence incident with nothing except the clothes on their back. “We have to get them somewhere, so when there’s a crisis in the middle of the night, having someplace close by is really a benefit,” she said.

“The greatest thing you can do for children who have experienced this kind of trauma is give them a routine and stability and a safe and secure environment,” said White. “We had a woman that we helped last month who wrote a thank you note that said this was the first time she slept through the night in five years.”

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During the pandemic, the Family Safety Network has seen the number of victims seeking help jump from 153 individuals in April, May and June of 2019 to 846 individuals in the same time period this year.

“We absolutely see the need for the shelter at the ARCC,” White said.

The ARCC emergency shelter board plans to partner with the Family Safety Network as the project moves forward.

Kristin Fake has been on the emergency shelter board for three months. “With the COVID epidemic, homelessness has also become a bigger problem for our area,” she said. “That is the reason I got involved, because the need for this has dramatically escalated. Right now, there are no options for someone in our area who becomes homeless. This will be their only option. And with families under the stress of COVID, that has increased the violence in homes. The shelter will be helping with both of these needs. ”

Providing support is key

When he is called out on a domestic incident, Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hansen said options are limited.

“When I called shelters in Fargo and St. Cloud, they were both full,” he said. “There are resources to pay for a night or two in a motel, but that’s it.”

Hansen said some people are concerned having an emergency shelter will bring crime into the community.

“The people are here already,” he said. “We’re going to be helping them, giving them a leg up.”

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Hansen and Hubbard County sheriff deputy Josh Oswald of Nevis will work together to address any law enforcement issues.

Fuller joined the emergency shelter board when he retired after 40 years on the police force in Colorado and moved to this area.

“There’s a lot of unreported domestic violence,” he said. “We’re going to have security options in place and we’ll be working closely with the local police officers. There will absolutely be no drugs or alcohol allowed on the premises and all of the volunteers will be screened.”

He said the goal is to provide a support network for residents.

“We want to make sure they have support to get to court and get counseling,” said Fuller. “Once we are open, we’re going to need funds to keep the shelter operating too.”

Holm said community members can support the ARCC Emergency Shelter in three ways. “First, pray for our project,” he said. “Ask God to give us the wisdom, personnel and money to accomplish this good work. Second, give generously. Any amount is greatly appreciated. Third, consider volunteering.”

The ARCC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. Mail checks made out to ARCC Shelter to the Akeley Regional Community Center, PO Box 183, Akeley, MN 54433.

For more information on volunteering to help with the project, call Holm at 218-513-3270 or Fuller at 303-994-5444., or email kennyholm052@gmail.com.

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Shane LaGue of Bemidji is one of the volunteers who has been working on getting the Akeley emergency shelter ready to open this fall. Submitted photo.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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