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New homeless shelter for men set for grand opening Friday

The Refuge director Randy Kohler is getting ready to open Compassion House, a homeless shelter for men operated by The Refuge, in Detroit Lakes. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

“From homeless to wholeness” is the motto — and the mission — of the Compassion House, the new men’s shelter set to open its doors to the public for the first time this Friday, May 17, in Detroit Lakes.

There will be tours of the facility offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a ribbon cutting ceremony set at 12:30 p.m., to be followed by a light lunch for all attendees.

Operated by The Refuge Christian Outreach Center, the Compassion House is intended to provide much more than just a place to get a hot meal and a bed to sleep in for the night, says its director, Lynnette Price.

“It’s a place for people who are really willing to make a change in their life,” she said.

Those who live there for more than a night or two will be asked to not only take responsibility for keeping the facilities clean and preparing their own meals, but also for taking the steps necessary to eventually become self-sufficient and able to maintain a home of their own.

“We refer to them as our guests, rather than residents,” Price explained.

While 10 of its 51 available beds will be for short-term, emergency housing, the remainder of the facility is reserved for transitional housing — which, as the name implies, is to help guests make the transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

But the real goal of the Compassion House runs a bit deeper than that, Price explained.

“We want to provide an opportunity for the homeless to learn and grow and develop, so that when they leave Compassion House they will be ready to live a life that’s fulfilling and meaningful,” she said.

“We’ll be working with them on seven major areas of growth and development: Home and family, finance, spiritual, mental and physical health, social skills and community service.”

Men who are interested in applying for admission to the Compassion House can come fill out an application — though at least for the time being, those admitted will only be from the Detroit Lakes area, Price noted.

“We want to make a difference in the lives of those who are homeless in this area — and there are a lot of them,” she explained.

The other main criteria for admission will be that the person can honestly answer “yes” to the question, “Do you want to make a change in your life?”

“This is a place for people who want to get off this track in their life and find a new path,” Price said.

The first official residents, or guests, of the Compassion House will move in on Monday, May 20.

“We will start moving in small groups of two or three people at a time,” Price said. “It’s going to be a slow progression.”

Though residents are expected to cook, clean and do basic household chores for themselves, there will be three permanent staff members on hand to assist them when necessary.

“There will be permanent staff there 24/7,” Price said (though not all of the staff will live on site). “We will start with three, and add staff as we grow.”

Though construction of the interior and exterior portions of the building itself are now complete, “our next big push” will be to finish the exterior landscaping and gardens, Price said.

“It’s not going to just be one big, massive garden,” she added. “There will be trees and grass and a living area as well as fruits and vegetables.”

Maintenance of the lawns and gardens will be done entirely by Compassion House guests, who are also responsible for their own laundry, cooking, cleaning and other domestic chores.

“We will be looking for grant money to help with the (gardening) project, but the work will be done by those living there,” Price said. “They will also be responsible for cookiing meals, and keeping the building clean inside and out.”

Getting to the point of opening the doors of the Compassion House for occupancy has been a real community effort, she added.

“I have just been so thrilled with the support from the community,” Price said. “For years, whenever there’s been a homeless situation we’ve had to send them to Fargo — and Fargo is past the point where they can continue to meet that need.

“So Detroit Lakes has stepped up and said, ‘We can help.’”

Though many donors and volunteers have contributed their time, money and talents to help bring the project to fruition, there was one couple that stepped up and really made it happen.

Cormorant Lakes area residents Jacob (“Jack”) and Lorraine Neufeld donated the $100,000 necessary to complete the project this year.

Jack Neufeld summed up his reasons for making the donation by quoting a phrase from the Bible’s New Testament… Specifically, Matthew 25:36: “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”

“It’s our responsibility to do that — I believe that from the bottom of my heart,” he said.

A retired Methodist minister, professor of psychology (at MSUM in Moorhead) and counselor by trade, Neufeld said he and his wife decided to contribute to The Refuge Christian Outreach Center, and later to the Compassion House, after he spent a couple of hours meeting with founder Mel Manning and director Randy Kohler, learning what their mission was all about.

“I also volunteer here, and I’m on the board,” Neufeld added. “I don’t think all the blessings we receive are really ours. We are required to be good stewards of our wealth, and to use it wisely.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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