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Riham Feshir, Forum Communications Co., Published November 07 2010

The Refuge eyes homeless shelter

Allan Schoenberger sees it every day at The Refuge Christian Outreach and Resource Center in Detroit Lakes.

And to make sure the need for a men’s homeless shelter is there, he would go under the Highway 59 bridge every now and then to see men lying there in the dead of winter in need of a place to sleep.

“You live here and you don’t even realize it,” Schoenberger said.

The Refuge is a nonprofit organization that serves daily breakfasts and suppers that add up to nearly 10,000 meals a year.

Some of the visitors are not only in need of food, they need housing that’s not available locally.

“We get so many homeless people here, we’re feeding people constantly,” said Schoenberger, vice president, treasurer and administrator of The Refuge.

“In the past, the most we could do is feed them. We can’t house them, so we’d send them to Fargo.”

The Refuge is planning to open a homeless shelter in the next three months that would house 20 to 25 men. The organization has made an offer on the Waste Management building — which is located two buildings away from The Refuge on Eighth Street in Detroit Lakes — and is awaiting a response.

Schoenberger is optimistic and is already working on fundraising opportunities that would fund the $275,000 project to be named “The Passion House.”

The homeless shelter will be modeled after some of the successful ones in the area, like the “New Life Center” in Fargo.

The Passion House will be a drug- and alcohol-free environment and would use the resources of partnering organizations like Mahube Community Council and the Detroit Lakes Ministerial Association to help residents get back on track.

The Refuge plans to provide a thrift shop for the residents as an employment opportunity. There will also be Bible study sessions and education assistance.

“These people, they’re not drunk, they’re not dangerous…” Schoenberger said. “You reach into your pocket and you give money but that doesn’t help.”

Marcia Otte, family development director for Mahube Community Council, who also works with the housing programs, said many of the homeless now are suffering from the down economy.

People are unable to get by with unemployment benefits alone or their incomes have been reduced dramatically that they end up losing their homes.

The rental units are also filling up fast and the shelters in Bemidji and Moorhead are overflowing, Otte said.

“We can do temporary things like a motel here and there, but there is just not enough available that people can afford, she added. “Now they’ve exhausted all those resources.”

It’s difficult to define “homelessness” in Becker County because there are not as many people living on the streets as there are some living with family, friends or in their cars.

Becker County Human Services Director Nancy Nelson said the county, however, has seen a significant increase in the number of those meeting the federal poverty guidelines and seeking public assistance.

With the help of the Public Assistance Program, people get food, cash or medical care. The number of cases has jumped from about 10 percent in 2008 to more than 12 percent of the county’s population this year.

“It’s up substantially over the last couple of years,” Nelson said.

To meet the demand, Schoenberger said The Passion House should be up and running by the spring, if everything goes according to plan. It will be funded by donations in addition to grants.

The next major fundraising opportunity will be held Thursday, Dec. 9 at the Holiday Inn. The fundraiser costs $300 for each table of eight, which includes food.

There will be 25 tables available and the money raised from the admission costs and free will offerings will be used toward a down payment on the shelter.

“It’s so needed. If you saw people coming in here with nothing, your heart goes out and you can only do so much,” Schoenberger said.

Riham Feshir is a writer for the Detroit Lakes Tribune