In the name of research, DL men live in AL men's shelter

When you think about homeless people, living on the streets, it often seems like a problem that doesn't exist outside of large metropolitan areas. But that's simply not the case, says Pastor Tim Rice of Detroit Lakes' Christian Fellowship Church....

Allan Schoenberger
Allan Schoenberger, left, and Pastor Tim Rice spent a week in an Alabama homeless shelter to experience firsthand the workings of a shelter and what it's like to call a shelter home. The two men are involved with The Refuge in getting a men's shelter built in Detroit Lakes.

When you think about homeless people, living on the streets, it often seems like a problem that doesn't exist outside of large metropolitan areas.

But that's simply not the case, says Pastor Tim Rice of Detroit Lakes' Christian Fellowship Church.

Rice, who is also president of the local Ministerial Association, said they often get calls for assistance.

"The Ministerial Association helps out when we can," he said. "We'll send people to Fargo, or put them up in a hotel for the night (when the funds are available)."

But even in Fargo, housing options are limited. A recent news story featured on WDAY in Fargo revealed that on any given night, there are upwards of 1,000 homeless people living in Fargo-Moorhead, in search of a place to sleep.


Yet there are only 240 beds available at shelters in that area, Rice noted.

"That's 760 people who have to find somewhere else to sleep," he said.

Another startling statistic is that 25 percent of all homeless people are veterans, Rice added.

And 75 percent of all homeless people are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both, said Charlie Walker, a volunteer at The Refuge Christian Outreach & Resource Center in Detroit Lakes.

But that doesn't mean every homeless person fits the image of a man sitting on a street corner with a wine bottle in hand, Walker added.

"A lot of people end up homeless, for a lot of reasons," he added, noting that he himself had been homeless, during three different times in his life.

"I've been there, and done that," Walker said -- and he's also been on the other side of that equation, working at a shelter to help those who need a place to sleep for the night.

The Refuge is in the process of constructing a 25-bed shelter for homeless men in Detroit Lakes, on the site of the former Waste Management building near The Refuge's headquarters on Eighth Street.


The shelter, which will be known as Compassion House, has already received approval from the Detroit Lakes City Council, and is slated for completion by late summer.

"We have the plans in place, and we have approval from the city," Rice said. "We're just waiting on the financing. We hope to move forward as soon as possible."

A dinner to help raise funds for Compassion House is being planned for Thursday, March 17, at the Riverside United Methodist Church in Park Rapids.

Speakers at the dinner will include Rice as well as Marcia Otte and Leah Pigatti of Mahube Community Council. Those interested in attending the dinner are asked to call Refuge administrator Allan Schoenberger at 218-847-1023, or stop in at The Refuge to sign up.

To learn more about what it takes to operate a homeless shelter, Rice, Walker and Schoenberger traveled to the town of Opelika, AL, to meet with Rick and Kim Hagans of Harvest Evangelical Ministries, who operate four different shelters for those in need, as well as the largest thrift store in the U.S.

Rick Hagans is a longtime acquaintance of Walker's, and he gave the trio a unique opportunity to stay at one of their shelters for a week, from Feb. 22-28.

"They started out as a coffee place, kind of like us (at the Refuge)," said Walker.

While they were in Alabama, the men also visited four other homeless shelters in Opelika and nearby Birmingham, and also took a tour of the Harvest Thrift Store.


And while the place that the three men stayed in was a rehabilitation and discipleship home for men living with chemical dependency, they did learn some valuable lessons that they could apply to operation of the Detroit Lakes shelter, Schoenberger noted.

"We were sponges, and we got soaked up full," he said.

"It was kind of a research trip," Rice agreed. "There was a lot of stuff that we won't use, but there are some things we certainly will."

"Everything that they do there won't work for us -- we're not a rehab (facility)," said Walker.

"We probably can't use about 95 percent of it," said Rice.

"But the 5 percent that will work was very helpful," Walker added.

"We're not going to be a drug rehab center, but some of the issues (with homelessness) are the same," Rice said.

For instance, keeping to a schedule is important, to help give structure to the men's lives.


It was also important to note that the men who lived at His Place were directly responsible for its upkeep, Rice said.

"They have to make their beds and keep the place clean," Schoenberger said. "They have assigned duties, inside and outside."

Many of the people who manage the shelters and thrift store for Harvest Evangelism are past graduates of the program, Walker added.

And while not everything they learned in Alabama could be directly applicable to the Compassion House project, it may prove useful in future endeavors, noted Schoenberger.

"We're looking beyond (operating) a 25-bed men's shelter," he said. "There are other areas of homelessness as well."

The Refuge was recently given a 100-acre land gift, and "that land was given to us for a reason," Schoenberger continued. "It seems to me that reason was to expand our vision. There are many needs out there in the homeless area -- not just men."

But for now, the Compassion House is the group's focus.

"It's going to be a lot of work," said Walker, adding that the "burnout rate" for those who work with the homeless is about 18 months -- though he definitely doesn't fit that pattern.


Neither does Rice, who said that the work The Refuge does is about more than just offering a meal and a place to sleep -- or "a hot and a cot," as Walker put it.

"We want to see their lives changed," he said. "You can give a hand out, but it's better to give them a hand up."

For more information about Compassion House, as well as the other programs and services offered at The Refuge, you can contact Schoenberger at 847-1023.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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