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Bemidji leaders break ground on long-sought women's shelter

Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter leaders and board members break ground ceremonially for the new facility in Bemidji on May 17, 2024.
Larissa Donovan
/
KAXE
Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter leaders and board members break ground ceremonially for the new facility in Bemidji on May 17, 2024.

The Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter has needed a new facility for 20 years, and on Friday, May 17, 2024, ground was broken for the new facility expected to open in spring 2025.

BEMIDJI — Community leaders and advocates broke ground on a long-sought project to serve victims of intimate partner violence in Northern Minnesota.

Operating since 1974, the Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter serves hundreds of survivors of intimate partner violence every year, but due to space constraints, they also turn away hundreds needing emergency shelter.

“In 2022 we provided services for about 550 individuals ... about half of whom we can safely shelter, and that is where this [capital campaign] came about,” said Chris Latzke, the executive director of Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter.

Executive Director Chris Latzke, center, thanks the community for their support during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter in Bemidji on May 17, 2024.
Larissa Donovan
/
KAXE
Executive Director Chris Latzke, center, thanks the community for their support during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter in Bemidji on May 17, 2024.

Latzke said the shelter has needed a new facility for 20 years. The nonprofit owns the undeveloped parcel the new facility will be built on, near Sanford Health’s Bemidji campus and within walking distance to a park and grocery stores.

The capital campaign began seven years ago, led by United Way of Bemidji Area’s Women United, which raised about $20,000 for an architect to design the new facility.

Denae Alamano, executive director of the United Way of Bemidji Area.
Contributed
/
United Way of Bemidji Area
Denae Alamano, executive director of the United Way of Bemidji Area.

United Way of Bemidji Area’s Executive Director Denae Alamano explained the shelter is a partner agency of the United Way, and the Women United group took on the project after hearing how many people had to be turned away due to capacity issues.

“That year in particular, they had serviced 800 people in our community. Just to wrap your head around 800 people in our community needing these services. It's just really hard to grasp," Alamano said.

“That led us to more conversations around what kind of capacity they would need.”

The current shelter can house up to 12 survivors at a time, but offers little privacy, according to Latzke. The new facility is designed with individual studio apartments with private bathrooms, as well as private intake rooms and meeting spaces the current facility can’t accommodate.

Golden shovels await the ground breaking ceremony for the new Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter in Bemidji on May 17, 2024. Kraus Anderson painted the helmets purple, the color for domestic violence awareness.
Larissa Donovan
/
KAXE
Golden shovels await the ground breaking ceremony for the new Northwoods Battered Women's Shelter in Bemidji on May 17, 2024. Kraus Anderson painted the helmets purple, the color for domestic violence awareness.

"We'll be able to do mental health therapies on site and hopefully get some support groups going again,” Latzke said.

Thirty-nine people were killed in Minnesota last year from situations of intimate partner violence, the most in more than three decades of tracking this kind of violence, according to a report released by Violence Free Minnesota earlier this year. The victims include bystanders and intervenors. Of the women killed, 20% were separated or trying to leave their relationship.

“When you look at those numbers ... every year [the Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter] servicing between 600 and 800 people, that's a big problem in a small community like ours,” Alamano said.

The shelter also provides 24/7 advocacy services, clothing, legal aid and other referral services.

The new facility is expected to open in Spring 2025 and will double the current shelter’s capacity while also improving the experience for survivors.

"[They’ll] have privacy when they're healing, the dignity that they need,” Latzke said, “not sharing a room sometimes with three other people that they don't know.”

Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.