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Conifer Estates Wins DHS Circle of Excellence Award

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

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.

Recently the partners of Confer Estates' were notified that they have been selected as a recipients of the 2013 Commissioners Circle of Excellence Award for "demonstrating significant initiative and innovation in serving human services program clients." The award comes from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. (DHS)

A letter from Lucinda E. Jesson, Commissioner, Minnesota State Department of Human Services (DHS reads: "I am pleased to have the opportunity to recognize your organization and your partners, as our partner in performing outstanding work to support the DHS mission, priorities and goals, and for your outstanding commitment to our human service program clients."

Jesson concluded, "Thank you for your commitment to providing excellent programs and services to our clients. I am happy to have you among the group of recipients for this third year of presenting these awards."

Conifer Estates was nominated for its unique collaboration in addressing racial disparities, ending homelessness, and providing culturally competent services.

Each year, the Commissioner's Circle of Excellence Awards recognize excellence among human services providers, counties, advocacy groups and other organizations that work in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to help people meet their basic needs so they can live in dignity and achieve their highest potential.

Sharing in the award are the partners of Conifer Estates; Bi-County Community Action Programs, Red Lake Reservation Housing authority, and Leech Lake Housing authority.

An awards ceremony will be held Monday, December 16, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the Elmer L. Andersen human services Building, in St. Paul.

DHS Information Officer Interviews Participants - A Preparation for the Award Presentation

The Circle of Excellence Award is the highest honor that DHS bestows on its partners and goes out of its way to pat winners on the back. In keeping with that idea, on Tuesday, November 19, Conifer Estates was be visited by Katie Bauer, Information Officer for DHS who interviewed residents and staff for a video that will be played at the awards ceremony.

Lacey, Resident

Resident Lacey Tverstol, (White Earth) says that Conifer is just the thing she and her daughter Riley need. "I like having my own place, I like the location," says Lacey. "Conifer is private, new, and safe. My daughter has made several friends. The staff here are very supportive in accessing services. The housing being income based is a big deal to me. Everything is paid for except cable and phone. This helps greatly as I am going to school and unable to work full time."

In two semesters, Lacey will be a Licensed Practical Nurse, (LPN) and already has a job at Havenwood Nursing Home.

Dominic, Resident

Dominic Meeshenow, Sr., a Red Lake member, lives at Conifer with his son Dominc Jr, age 15 months, and mother Alyssa Beaulieu, who works at Youth Build in the Bi-CAP building nearby.

"We moved in same time the baby born, about 15 months," says Dominic, Sr. "It's good to be living here on my own instead of being dependent on parents. It's private, quiet and takes me away from bad environments. When Dominic Jr., gets older, he can go to school right next door at Head Start."

Barb, Bi-County Cap Staff

Barb Meuers is Case Manager for Long-term Homeless, Bi-County Community Action Program. (Bi-CAP) Barb manages nine tenants for Bi-CAP who come from all nations.

"We help our clients come up with goals as part of the deal," says Barb. "They discuss goals reached and make new goals for the coming year. We help them find jobs, go to school, and teach budget basics, cooking and house cleaning.

Mental health issues are an important service Conifer staff provides. "Sometimes folks struggle to even admit it let alone treat it," says Barb. "Often there's a stigmatism that goes with it be it trauma, fetal alcohol, or domestic violence. All of us feel strongly about this issue and feel it important to provide a connection to services to help clients learn to survive and grow."

"I couldn't be happier about the award, it demonstrates the success of Conifer," said Barb Meuers. "We've been here not quite a year and a half. So this award is timely, the perfect opportunity to create a stronger community as neighbors, both adults and children, build trust and friendship."

Julie, Leech Lake Staff

Julie Kurschner-Pineda, (Leech Lake) is the Homeless Resource Program Manager, for the Leech Lake Band. She supervises Leech Lake Case Manager Sandy Kingbird, (Red Lake) who manages five units but was unable to attend.

"We do life skills training and goal setting, and encourage it with an incentive program," says Julie. "We feel our clients need consistency. We show them how to get a license, teach about food nutrition, how to pay bills, help with transportation, and even how to deal with teen pregnancy. We try to provide that. We also hope to start a garden in the spring."

"Most are good people who just need a break. Some never got those basic life skills growing up, someone to believe in them. Like everyone else, they just have a basic fear of the unknown. We're trying to create a strong community," Julie concluded.

Sandy Kingbird, (Red Lake) case worker for Leech Lake observed in an earlier interview, "Glora, Barb and I not only work together well, we like and respect each other," she said. "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."

Gloria, Red Lake Staff

Gloria Bedeua, (Red Lake) is the Case Manager, Red Lake. She has been a Conifer Case Manager for just a few weeks, having replace Alice Benaise who moved on to another job at Red Lake.

"All our families are young," said Bedeau. "These young families need the basics; transportation, affordable child care, learning to overcome barriers, and they need resources to help them look for jobs and other needs. Alice has told me how wonderful it is to see how our families have flourished over this past year," said Bedeau.

"I'll be participating in monthly service provider meetings, and our families may and do approach any of us for assistance", said Bedeau. "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. We are a well-working team who shares the responsibility of management and services to our clients."

Bedeau, 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. Conifer's young, hard-working resident manager, is a stern but gentle fellow known as Joe Van Horn, of Redby.

Conifer Estates: A Collaborative of Two Tribal Nations and a Local Agency Serve 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.

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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