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Published February 17 2012

Fargo business owner at odds with nearby homeless shelter

FARGO - Shannon Grindberg has been spit on, threatened and cursed at. He’s found strangers sleeping on his doorstep and screaming in his backyard. His business has been broken into, his garage has been urinated on, and he’s collected more liquor bottles from his property than he cares to count.

And that’s just from his neighbors.

Grindberg lives next to the Gladys Ray Shelter at 1519 1st Ave. S. It is the only area shelter that accepts homeless people who have been drinking. The shelter is attached to a detox center.

Grindberg, who owns Vintage Vinyl at 1501 1st Ave. S., two doors down from the shelter, said he has a front-row seat to an ugly series of problems stemming from the shelter and its guests.

“I see it when they leave in the morning, and I see it when they come home at night,” he said. “I’m the last 100 yards they see. I’m the stash place.”

He’d like to see the shelter relocated to a nonresidential area.

Grindberg has been at odds with the 35-bed shelter since he opened his store nearby in 2009 and bought the house next door to keep an eye on it.

Jan Eliassen, the shelter’s director, said efforts to have productive conversations about Grindberg’s concerns have failed.

“We really tried,” she said. “I don’t know that anything we’ve done or could have done or will do will change his mind.”

She said while other neighbors have contacted her at times with concerns, most don’t share Grindberg’s animosity.

“I don’t think that’s the general tone throughout the neighborhood,” she said. “I’ve been very impressed with the neighborhood.”

The shelter, which opened in 2008, was already there when Grindberg arrived. So why did he move in – and why has he stuck around?

“If the city felt it was safe for the community, why would I even question

it?” he said.

Since then, though, Grindberg has had numerous run-ins with shelter guests. He does not drink but is accustomed to finding alcohol and sometimes drugs hidden on his property – the shelter does not allow alcohol or drugs inside.

In one incident, an intoxicated woman told him she was going to burn down his home and business. In another, he went outside to find someone passed out on his doorstep.

“You expect that downtown in front of a bar once in a while,” Grindberg said, “but that’s my house.”

The front of his home and business are covered in no trespassing and no loitering signs – not exactly the welcoming image he wants to convey, he said.

Some shelter guests are always combative with him, he said. Others are affable by day, but a handful at night.

During an interview at his shop Friday, Grindberg pointed out a passing shelter guest. “When he’s sober, he’s the nicest guy in the world,” he said. “But when he’s drunk …”

He’s called the police on numerous occasions, as Eliassen encourages neighbors to do when they spot illegal activity. But he said keeping tabs on every incident on the block would be a full-time job.

Eliassen said the shelter urges its guests to respect the neighborhood. At times, the shelter has expelled those who couldn’t comply, although it tries to reserve that step as a measure of last resort.

“It certainly doesn’t always go perfectly” she said.

Grindberg also questions how effective the shelter is in helping addicts.

“I’ve seen the same people come and go for over a year or two years,” he said. “What are we doing to put these people on a productive path to break this vicious cycle other than getting a hot and a cot and a place to feed their addiction for a day?”

Eliassen, herself a recovering addict who has been sober for more than two decades, said the shelter has produced results for many of the 1,000-plus people it has served since opening.

“We can’t keep going back day after day if we’re not seeing something that we believe is working,” she said. “We’ve seen a number of people move on.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502