Community Powwow Held at Conifer Estates - P2

Bemidji Facility for Red Lake/Leech Lake Long-term Homeless


A great place for kids

Muskrat Lodge

Just behind the baseball fields near Bemidji Middle School, nestled among the pines, is a place called Conifer Estates, a supportive housing project put together with collaborative effort by several governments and agencies, including Red Lake Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Bi-County CAP.

At about 3 p.m. on a beautiful Wednesday, June 12, 70+ residents, staff, and guests - about half of whom were small children - gathered near Conifer's office building enjoying the sun and the long awaited 75 degree heat.

To the rear of the building is a meeting room filled with hot dog and hamburger buns, chips, pickles, and more. Outside the open back door, two charcoal grills are commandeered by Conifer's young, hard-working resident manager, a stern but gentle fellow known as Joe Van Horn, of Redby.

The athletic Van Horn was grilling up dozens of burgers and dogs for those gathered. To Van Horn's right, six or seven young children were seated at a round steel table chatting away like fledglings. Behind them, several more played on a "jungle gym." Laughing children were everywhere, now freed from their school desks, thoroughly enjoying their first day of summer on what could be argued was the first day of summer.

Two Drums took position at the bottom of a dry "run-off" pond, a round depression not unlike a small amphitheater. A drumbeat signaled a people to gather who then circled the drums. To the right was Little Bear Drum made up of teens from Red Lake Chemical Health. To the left was the Dave Manuel Drum, Muskrat Lodge of Ponemah.

Chad Nelson, Chief Property manager for DW Jones began the program with a few words. DW Jones manages the property. "This is such a great turn-out," Nelson told the small crowd of neighbors and friends. "As we celebrate our first annual powwow and picnic, we also celebrate what will be Conifer's first birthday next month. My thanks to the staff here at Conifer and of course the tenants who have made this effort such a great success."

Salena Jourdain, BSU princess from Little Rock had planned to make an appearance, but was delayed at the last minute and unable to come. Jourdain has been traveling with celebrated grass dancer, Larry Yazzi.

Darrell Kingbird, cultural advisor from Ponemah, would bless the food. Kingbird, in his late 40's, explained in English the content of the prayer he would soon offer in Ojibwemowin. Afterwards, he requested "an eagle song" from Muskrat Lodge, and then joined them in song.

The short program over, a food line soon formed that snaked through the office building. Neighbors, becoming friends, stood chatting and laughing unconcerned for the wait. Most then would take the short walk to the far side of the amphitheater, where several tables nestled in the trees awaited.

"I couldn't be happier about how this all turned out, the success of it," said Barb Meuers, Case Manager for Bi-CAP, who could not conceal her satisfaction and pride. "We've been here not quite a year. Families have moved in slowly over that time. Some may know each other only in passing. So this event is timely, the perfect opportunity to create a stronger community as neighbors, both adults and children, build trust and friendship."

"I started part-time at the Red Lake Homeless Shelter in January 2012, and was hired full-time in May when interviews began for occupancy here at Conifer," said Alice Benaise, case manager for Red Lake. "My dedication and commitment to Conifer is due in part because I was there when our families first started moving in - and with very little belongings and no furniture. It's wonderful to see how our families have flourished over this past year, and today we saw their sense of community as they all began to gather as our drums started beating."

Benaise, case manager for Red Lake, works on-site at Conifer every Tuesday. Meuers, case manager for Bi-Cap, works there Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, while case manager for Leech Lake, Sandy Kingbird, (Red Lake member, Battle River) covers the office on Friday.

"We have monthly service provider meetings, and our families will approach any of us for assistance", said Benaise. "We work hard at knowing what is happening at Conifer and pass along important information to each other. This helps the three of us identify problem areas such as too much drinking, possible drug activity, poor parental supervision, etc., then to act quickly so we can address the issues before they get out of hand. Conifer is also equipped with surveillance cameras which we rely upon, and make our residents aware of. We are a well-working team who shares the responsibility of management and services to our clients."

Sandy Kingbird, case worker for Leech Lake confirmed Benaise's observations. "Alice, Barb and I not only work together well, we like and respect each other," said Kingbird. "This camaraderie helps us help our residents by designing programs in life-skills training, money management, etc. We also act as liaisons between residents and social agencies to help them get on their feet, if needed."

Benaise concluded by thanking Leech Lake and Red Lake Gaming for providing all the food for the event, and others who gave small donations.

Conifer Estates: Serving Eligible Tribal Members and Long-Term Homeless

On a single day in 2009, 393 people were known to be homeless in the Northwest Region of Minnesota, including 235 children and youth through age 21. As the economy worsened and homelessness increased, housing leaders in Beltrami initiated a planning process to bring a supportive housing project into the community.

Conifer Estates, which grew out of the planning process, is a collaborative effort between Headwaters Housing Development Corporation (HHDC), Beltrami County HRA, Red Lake Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Bi-County Community Action Programs, Inc. (Bi-CAP). The 20-unit development consists of 16 supportive, three transitional housing units, and one caretaker's unit, all designed to successfully house homeless families. Red Lake HRA and Leech Lake HRA each hold the master lease for five units and sublet these 10 units to eligible tribal members. The remaining nine units are available to other households experiencing long-term homelessness.

Sandy Kingbird, (Battle River) case worker for Leech Lake give Joe Van Horn a hand with the grilling

Conifer Estates residents have access to supportive services such as life-skills training, money management, employment referrals, counseling, and crisis intervention. Tribal members can access additional services directly from their tribe. Conifer Estates is the only housing development in the region for which two tribal nations and a local agency share in the management and delivery of services.

The project's concept was developed during a Tribal Roundtable regarding the need for affordable housing choices in Bemidji. During the discussion, the Corporation for Supportive Housing suggested the group could try to secure bonding funding from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to create a supportive housing project. The HHDC agreed to be the project developer and the Beltrami County HRA agreed to be the public owner. The group faced many obstacles during the development process. Among the difficulties was securing funding to develop Conifer Avenue, the road that now runs adjacent to Conifer Estates. The City of Bemidji was a strong supporter of the project, providing funding that was essential for the road.


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