The only organization providing shelter services for homeless families in the Brainerd lakes area has closed permanently.

Following a suspension of programming this spring, the board of directors for New Pathways determined there wasn’t the necessary support to bring the day center for homeless parents and children back to Brainerd.

“We realize this decision will be hard for many, including us, to accept,” a letter signed by Mark Radeke, board president, stated.

The letter reported the board sought to meet with 21 key stakeholders in the lakes area to evaluate homelessness in the community as part of a needs assessment. The assessment was part of a process to determine how to bring the organization back to Brainerd after it moved out of its leased space at Halverson-Taylor Funeral and Cremation Care on South Eighth Street.

“Unfortunately, the needs assessment was not well attended,” the letter stated. “Low participation, in combination with the responses of those completing the assessment, left the Board of Directors questioning the viability of continued programming. The results of the needs assessment, the financial history of the program, shortage of partnering churches and the recent loss of our rental space have resulted in the Board of Directors to conclude there isn’t the necessary support for our program to continue, therefore making the decision to close our program in Brainerd permanently.”

The loss of rental space followed disagreement between organization leaders and Tim Taylor, owner of the funeral home who served as New Pathways’ landlord. The parties were at odds over the cost of utilities and space available for the homeless program per the lease. Amid that disagreement, Taylor built a wall in the New Pathways space in January, blocking clients’ access to bathrooms. He advised them to use the restrooms at the Holiday Stationstore more than two blocks away.

At the time, Taylor said the tenant was not respecting the leased space, was taking up more space than was allowed in the lease, had failed to pay utilities and was racking up a higher electricity bill than expected. Former Executive Director Pam Streed said New Pathways vacated the extra space they were using and offered to contribute toward utilities costs, but wanted a clearer understanding of the organization’s electrical impact on the bill. She also said Taylor offered to construct a new doorway for bathroom access, but did not do so.

As the lease stated both parties could break it by mutual agreement at any time without a penalty, March 31 was agreed upon as New Pathways’ last day of occupancy. Organization leaders previously stated intent to reinstate programming in Brainerd following the suspension.

Established in 1995, New Pathways first opened in Cambridge. In 2006, the program expanded first to Little Falls before moving its second location to Brainerd. The Brainerd location served six counties, although most of the families were from Crow Wing County. According to the board, the organization provided shelter and services to 386 families in need over the course of its work in Brainerd.

The program, expected to continue its operation in Cambridge, seeks to be an all-encompassing resource for families experiencing homelessness. It aims to provide for all basic needs and the resources necessary to acquire a job and home of one’s own.

Overnight sleeping accommodations and three meals a day are provided to clients through partnerships with churches and volunteers within their congregations.

Interim Executive Director Mary Westlund did not immediately return a request for comment.

“During our time in the community we have made many friends and allies,” Radeke wrote. “ … We thank you for your support and patience while this difficult decision was being made.”