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New winter shelter

Project BEE to open warming house

In an effort to address needs and close gaps, Minot’s Project BEE is opening a warming center to serve men, women and families in need of shelter this winter.

The center officially opens Friday and will operate through April.

“For the past couple of years we’ve been talking about a warming center with our other nonprofit partners,” said Project BEE Executive Director Liz Larsen. “We just pulled the trigger and decided, ‘If not us and if not right now, then when?'”

Although there have been no known deaths in Minot related directly to lack of shelter, a death in Bismarck last year increased the sense of urgency to close any gaps locally.

Larsen said the warming center will serve as a location to triage people needing help. The goal is to provide a “coordinated entry” into available shelter programs, in keeping with a mandate of the Department of Housing and Urban Development for funding. Through coordinated entry, applicants would be directed to the appropriate shelter, whether that is the Men’s Winter Refuge, Domestic Violence Crisis Center or Project BEE.

Larsen said Project BEE will be able to help meet immediate needs in providing winter gear, shower and laundry facilities and a hot meal. Community donations are welcomed toward its clothing closet and diaper pantry. Hygiene items and supplies for the shelter also are accepted. A wish list of items most needed is posted on the Project BEE Facebook page and Instagram each Wednesday.

Serving as the warming center, Project BEE’s downtown shelter will provide two large rooms, one for men and one for women. The building has seven apartments that will be available for families.

“We are going to offer case management during the day so people can sign up for an appointment with my case managers,” Larsen said. “Maybe people need a little extra help getting an ID, filling out job applications.”

Meals will be provided in the evening through a volunteer meal train. Larsen said businesses, organizations or individuals can sign up to provide meals using links at https://projectbeend.org. Response already has been good, Larsen said.

Minot Public Library will be providing books, and there will be television and other past-time entertainment available for clients in the evenings.

Project Bee will provide overnight staff and a grab-and-go breakfast at the warming center, which will be closed during the day. Volunteers also are encouraged to sign up to assist at the shelter.

“The more people involved, the safer things are, the more opportunities to maybe connect with clients, because different people have different needs and connect better with different people,” Larsen said.

Staff are trained in crisis intervention, and cameras are in place to help ensure safety and maintain a positive environment. The shelter will be drug- and weapons-free, with a secured cabinet for clients’ valuables.

Larsen said she expects the shelter to be busy this winter. Even this fall, Project BEE has seen an increase in calls as pandemic restrictions on evictions lift.

Project BEE expects to break ground next spring on a family homeless shelter called Broadway Circle, a project the organization took over from the former Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. The project is being undertaken through the City of Minot’s National Disaster Resilience Program, which is providing federal grant funds. Broadway Circle will provide six family units in the shelter, 17 low- to moderate-income apartments, a food pantry and soup kitchen as well as commercial space for lease to generate supportive income for the shelter.

Having years of experience in shelter housing for women and children in its previous existence as the YWCA, Project BEE looks to develop broader sheltering experience with the warming house before expanding its operations at the proposed new site. Larsen said having the family component with the warming house will be essential in keeping displaced families together and may help keep people in Minot who might otherwise be referred to other cities with greater sheltering options.

The warming house will be able to accommodate about 30 people, although no one will be turned away, Larsen said. Placing people in alternative housing, such as hotels, remains an option when necessary.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Project BEE’s women’s shelter has been closed and clients housed in hotels. Larsen said that has allowed for cleaning and inspections in the shelter building.

“This building does need a lot of work,” she said. “As soon as Broadway Circle is squared away, we have to start thinking about this building.”

Ideally, additional floors would be added, the layout improved and disability accessibility increased, she said.

A year ago, Project BEE was given property across the street from its downtown shelter that is available someday should funds be raised for expansion, but the land currently provides a source of income as a parking lot.

Since its rebranding as Project BEE this past summer, the organization has been pleased with the community support.

“People see our successes and they like it, and they want to be a part of it. We have seen a huge uptick in volunteers and then just in-kind donations and regular donations,” Larsen said. With the pandemic, she added, “It’s a weird year for everybody, but people still want to be involved, and it’s kind of cool.”

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