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Our Opinion: Brainerd's vote to keep warming shelter is spot on

We commend the Brainerd City Council for approving a Brainerd Planning Commission recommendation of an interim use permit to allow the warming shelter on South Seventh Street to operate through June 30, 2025.

Brainerd Dispatch editorial
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Last November, this editorial board applauded as Bridges of Hope and the community stepped up to fill a void to provide a temporary place for the area’s homeless population to find respite.

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Now it appears that effort will continue for at least the next three years — and beyond, we hope. For that we commend the Brainerd City Council for approving a Brainerd Planning Commission recommendation to grant an interim use permit to allow the warming shelter on South Seventh Street to operate through June 30, 2025.

Run by Bridges of Hope, the shelter included 20 beds for those 18 and older and was open each night from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Seventy-eight people used the shelter during the first season it was open, with an average of about six guests a night.

By all accounts, the warming house has been a success, with very few incidents reported. But we should focus not on what could have gone wrong but what did go right with the warming shelter. Most importantly, it helped people who might otherwise have been without a place to stay during potentially inhospitable late fall, winter and early spring months. It helped people in their time of need.

The approval of the three-year interim use permit was not unanimous. Council members Gabe Johnson and Mike O’Day voted against because they would prefer a yearly renewal come before the council.

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We don’t fault their logic — there’s never anything wrong with a regular review of an operation — but other considerations lead us to believe that a three-year permit was not only a safe move, but also the right move.

First is that the police chief can recommend suspension or revocation of the permit if there are any issues. That means safeguards are in place.

Second, as Bridges of Hope Executive Director Jana Shogren told the Planning Commission in July, a three-year permit allows the organization to solicit and secure long-term funding.

“We want to be able to demonstrate a commitment to this project,” Shogren told the Planning Commission.

There’s no question the warming shelter was needed. When New Pathways, a nonprofit assisting homeless families, closed in Brainerd in 2019, it meant the closest place Brainerd area homeless could find resources and shelter was in St. Cloud.

But our local service organizations, nonprofits and area churches stepped up with a plan. That was followed by our community members stepping up to help with financing. And now the city of Brainerd has stepped up to see to it that the vision stays a reality for the next three years.

Seeing the community rally around such a good cause should make all Brainerd residents feel proud.

The Brainerd Dispatch Editorial Board members are Dispatch and Echo Journal Publisher Pete Mohs, former Dispatch Publisher Terry McCollough, Dispatch Editor Matt Erickson, Dispatch Managing Editor Renee Richardson and Echo Journal Editor Nancy Vogt.
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