Sara Lee | Staff Writer | 02/09/2011
Village of Hope, Bemidji’s new shelter for families that are considered homeless by Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s (MHFA) standards, held their grand opening February 3. Shelter tenants were able to move in at 8 a.m. the following day.
Scott Thorson, a member of the building’s Board of Directors, opened the ribbon cutting ceremony by thanking the donors, contractors, volunteers and organizations that made Village of Hope possible. He gave a special thanks to Rebecca Hoffman, the executive director of the previous shelter, Ours to Serve: House of Hospitality, and now of House of Hospitality’s successor, Village of Hope.
“She has been on this project day and night,” said Thorson of Hoffman. “Whatever it took, she was there.” He went on to say that if it hadn’t been for Hoffman, the building would continue to be merely an idea. Thorson then announced that the dining area was dubbed Hoffman Hall in honor of Hoffman’s dedication to a project that’d been in the making since 2005.
The previous House of Hospitality was only licensed for 6 beds, and the growing need for a bigger facility was obvious. Funding for the bigger shelter came from various state and federal grants, as well as about 30 organizations and a few private donors. These organizations range everywhere from the city of Bemidji, which donated about $10,000 to the cause, the MFHA who donated approximately $1 million towards construction and other expenses, to a small group of anonymous donors.
“One day a group of kids showed up at the door with like a hundred bucks in cash and dropped it off. [They] didn’t leave their names and sorta giggled as they walked away,” said Hoffman with a smile. “You get to see those moments all the time.”
Careful planning also went into the way the shelter was built. Their motto is “Building Green, Building Community,” so nearly every aspect of the shelter is environmentally friendly. Everything from the bedding down to the glue used to adhere the carpet to the floor was donated to the shelter to create a temporary home for the people that stay there. Even the paintings on the walls have been donated by a local artist.
The Village of Hope employs both day shift staff and on-site staff members, who stay in apartments on the second floor and re on call 11 nights a month in exchange for rent.
“We’re actually looking to fill one position, said Hoffman. “And it’s a great fit for a student because you can still sleep and be on-site, work on homework, and you know, be a student and be working, and not have to pay rent and heat in exchange for those 11 nights per month.”
When asked what brought her to her current profession, Hoffman explained that at the age of 23 she found her first job with House of Hospitality through the Northern Student newspaper.
“There was this little ad…it was like one inch by one inch, if that, and it was right after graduating college,” she said. “I wanted a career that was really going to make a difference in the world…we get one ticket, you know? Why not leave something better than when it was when you arrived?”
The Village of Hope’s mission is to “promote self worth and independence through the provision of temporary shelter and supportive services for families experiencing homelessness,” as stated on Village of Hope’s homepage. The hope of providing such a service to those in need is that it “will strengthen our community by assisting families in breaking the cycle of homelessness,” as well as maintaining the virtues of family, respect and a strong community.
The Village of Hope can house 28 guests in the six family units, but compared to the number people they turn away on average every year, 28 tenants only scratches the surface of the needs of the homeless.
“On average, we’re turning away 700 people a year,” states Cheryl Yarnott, a Village of Hope board member and nurse by profession.“It’s heartbreaking.”
Families are allowed to stay for a month, as opposed to a longer period of time.
“This is an emergency shelter model,” said Hoffman. “Our goal is to serve as many people as we can with as few resources as possible, and we have found that it is perfectly reasonable to get a landlord statement in hand at the end of that month.”
Hoffman added, “The ‘rent’ that they pay is to be working on their goal plans, so we want them to be completely focused on caring for themselves and their family.”
In building the establishment, Hoffman explained that dignity, safety and hope were the three themes of the shelter. Tenants should feel worthy of living in a nice place. They should feel worthy of being secure, and as the yellow walls and comforting decor suggest, tenants should feel hope as they enter the facility.
“This is our opportunity to care for them, and to take care of them is kind of humbling,” said Hoffman. “It’s not easy because a lot of times people come here [and] they’re angry. They’re belligerent. You know, they’re unhappy. Deep down they’re hurting.”
Hoffman added, “This design is really about let’s just bring people in and care for them, and show them that they are worth being cared for.”