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Bemidji breaks ground on homeless shelter

"This feels good," a woman said as she pitched a shovel full of dirt into the air. Community members gathered along Mississippi Avenue Northwest Thursday afternoon as they officially broke ground on Village of Hope, an emergency shelter for homel...

"This feels good," a woman said as she pitched a shovel full of dirt into the air.

Community members gathered along Mississippi Avenue Northwest Thursday afternoon as they officially broke ground on Village of Hope, an emergency shelter for homeless families.

'This is not a glamorous job, working with families during one of the difficult moments in their lives," said Rebecca Hoffman, the executive director of Ours to Serve House of Hospitality, which will be replaced by Village of Hope. "However, my staff and I have the privilege of witnessing families overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles on a daily basis during their quest to end the cycle of poverty that plagues so many of our neighbors.

"I dedicate our work, this building and the intentions of all of those standing here today to the families that have endured this quest."

The groundbreaking was held outdoors under a fine mist, but no one's enthusiasm was dampened.


"Let us look down at the wonder of the earth, this place that has been waiting, waiting, waiting to build this Village of Hope," said Lois Jenkins, a longtime House of Hospitality board member. "May we be kind to Mother Earth as we build a home for her children as they restore their lives here."

Village of Hope will provide housing for up to 28 individuals - six families - in a bungalow-type building. Construction is expected to last about eight months.

The cost of the facility will be slightly above $1.4 million. The bulk of funding was secured through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

"I'm a lucky woman to be a part of this project," Hoffman said, her voice slightly cracking as she thanked her husband and children for their support.

Jenkins asked all of those who gathered at the site to make a circle around the area where the front door will be positioned. She then had them all face east, south, west and north as the community welcomed and blessed neighbors from Leech Lake, Red Lake, White Earth and neighboring counties.

"Let us look within ourselves and always remember our neighbors and our guests, who go to work, go to school and yet are in need of family shelter, the Village of Hope," Jenkins said. "Let us, with them, promise that we will end homelessness in our day, even at this Village of Hope."

Hoffman listed all of those who have made Village of Hope a possibility:

-- The North Country Health Services board of directors, which agreed to "sell us this perfect land for the perfect price."


-- Former state Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who worked to secure bonding dollars for the project.

-- The Red Lake Housing Authority, which pledged the first $50,000 toward the project.

-- Jim Lucachick, who donated his time to develop the initial concept.

-- The George W. Neilson Foundation, which provided $100,000.

-- The city of Bemidji, which paid the sewer and water connection fees and the cost of the building permit. Those actions also earned the project points through the MHFA, which eventually awarded more than $1 million in funding for Village of Hope.

-- Beltrami County Housing Redevelopment Authority, which will be the ownership entity for the next 30 years (which is a requirement of state bonding dollars).

-- Northwest Surveying, which donated much of its time and waived fees for surveying the property.

-- First National Bank Bemidji Foundation, which provided $10,000 toward furnishing.


-- Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless Foundation, which provided $10,000 toward furnishing.

-- The Idea Circle, which donated three trailers full of office furnishings from the former Ainsworth plant.

-- Mardag Foundation, which provided $10,000 toward furnishing.

-- Katie Culshaw, who provided a new logo for Village of Hope.

-- Rob Yuretich of Go Ask Rob, who developed the website, villageofhopebemidji.org.

"For this, we are forever grateful," Hoffman said, after announcing each group's contributions.

She also thanked the organizations that have provided Ours to Serve with operating supporting throughout the past 20 years, including the United Way of Bemidji Area, Beltrami County Department of Human Services and Minnesota's Office of Economic Opportunity. Bi-CAP provides on-site case management.

The building is planned to be as "green" as possible and will meet LEED standards so it can be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building. Kuepers Inc. Architects and Buildings will be the general contractor and architect.


"Last, but not least, thank you to the MHFA for ultimately funding this project and working with us over the last 18 months to make this the finest, greenest, most fabulous shelter there will ever be," Hoffman said.

Those interested in following along with the construction of Village of Hope may visit the project's blog site at bemidjivillageofhope.blogspot.com.

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