Brainerd is one step closer to having a homeless shelter.

The planning commission is working to fast-track a request for a conditional use permit that would allow a warming shelter to operate on South Sixth Street.

Jana Shogren, executive director of Bridges of Hope, told the commission Wednesday, Oct. 20, about the project, which is a collaboration with Crow Wing County and various other community organizations and entities. As there is no homeless shelter in Crow Wing County right now, the closest option for those seeking a warm place to sleep at night is St. Cloud.

“For some of us in the community, we just think that doesn't seem quite right to send people away. Because while someone might be unsheltered, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have roots in our community and that this isn’t home to them,” Shogren said.

Because homeless shelters are not an allowed use in Brainerd’s current zoning code, the options moving forward are to either amend the code to add shelters as an interim use or add the use under the new zoning code, which the city is in the process of revamping. The new zoning code likely will not be complete until February, so Community Development Director David Chanski told commission members if they want to move forward with the project sooner, amending the current code would be the best solution.

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Shogren said the shelter could be open this winter, depending on the city’s timeline. With a shelter director already in place, Shogren said a few cosmetic changes are needed for the building at 1919 S. Sixth St. — which contractors have already volunteered to do — and staff members need to be hired and trained. But whether the shelter is open for five months or two months this winter, Shogren said it would still be a needed service.

Another option brought forward was to consider the shelter a hotel under the current ordinance, which defines a hotel as an “establishment offering lodging accommodations,” creating some flexibility. In that case, the public hearings would not be needed, and the project could move forward even faster.

Tad Erickson, city council liaison to the planning commission, said he was not comfortable with that idea, as it seemed disingenuous since organizers were presenting a shelter and not a hotel. He added he is in favor of expediting the process through an interim use amendment, though.

“Just by doing this interim use — expediting it to the fact of using the interim use — we’re going to be making more progress on this issue than we have in the past 20 years,” Erickson said.

Commissioners ultimately directed staff to draft an ordinance amendment and scheduled a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, to review the proposal before it goes to the city council. City statute requires two public hearings before an ordinance amendment to take effect. After the ordinance is amended, shelter organizers would have to apply for an interim use permit, which would require another meeting to be approved. The city council will host those hearings at its regular meetings Nov. 1 and Nov. 15.

About the shelter

The building at 1919 South Sixth Street in Brainerd is the site for a proposed warming shelter, which is a collaborative project among Crow Wing County, Bridges of Hope and other community partners.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
The building at 1919 South Sixth Street in Brainerd is the site for a proposed warming shelter, which is a collaborative project among Crow Wing County, Bridges of Hope and other community partners. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The shelter would be open daily between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. simply as a warm place to sleep. Clients would have a designated locker for their personal belongings and be given bedding and a cot for the night. Retired Baxter Police Officer Ann Hunnicutt is on board to be the director, and the shelter would be fully staffed while in use.

As of Wednesday, Shogren said donations totaling $147,000 were committed by various groups and organizations to run the shelter, which is estimated to cost over $200,000 to open and run for the first year. Costs for future years would likely be lower.

For more information on the shelter project, visit bridgesofhopemn.org/warmingshelter or call Bridges of Hope at 218-825-7682.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.