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Bemidji's homeless will have a place to stay this winter

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The city of Bemidji has granted a permit allowing a night-time homeless shelter to open this winter – something the city's homeless didn't have last year.

The Nameless Coalition for the Homeless has been pushing for a shelter for months to serve homeless adults – many of whom are chronic alcoholics whose needs for shelter aren't being addressed elsewhere in the community.

"The reality is that people experiencing homelessness and who suffer from alcohol abuse live on downtown streets. This shelter will provide the opportunity to develop relationships and possibly the additional step of treatment or permanent housing," the coalition wrote in an editorial published in the Bemidji Pioneer.

And on Wednesday, the Greater Bemidji Joint Planning Board voted 4-1 to approve the interim use permit and variance the coalition needed to open a seasonal adult-only shelter at the site of the Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church, according to footage from the meeting, with the church planning to relocate.

The Nameless Coalition intends to purchase the building for $90,000, and hopes to open the shelter by Nov. 1 of this year, the Bemidji Pioneer says. The shelter will have space for 16 people, and will be open from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. from October through April.

The planning commission received both letters of concern and support prior to voting on the shelter, officials said at Wednesday's meeting. Concerns related to the shelter's location, which is near a library and a school. It's also located across the street from a police station.

Another organization, Center City Housing, also plans to open a shelter that will serve the same clientele – chronic alcoholics. The group hopes to open that shelter in the next three to five years, the Bemidji Pioneer says.

Center City Housing has said the needs for homeless people in the region is huge, and the homeless population is growing exponentially.

Survey results showed the number of people who identified as homeless in non-reservation areas of the 12-county northwest region of Minnesota grew 170 percent from 2009 to 2012 – 666 people identified as homeless in 2012.

There were roughly 10,214 homeless people in Minnesota in 2012 – a 6 percent increase from 2009, according to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, which conducts a survey of the state’s homeless every three years.

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