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New hope for the homeless in Alexandria area

The number of people seeking coats, shelter and food this past October and November doubled or maybe even tripled. With the brutally cold winter settling in, the United Way and communities action realized they had to do something right away,

ALEXANDRIA — A new burst of energy is helping the homeless in the Douglas County area.

The effort, which began on Jan. 10 and will continue through April 3, is called "Hope Haven" and is being led by United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties and the West Central Minnesota Communities Action.

The Alexandria Police Department is playing a supportive role, along with more than a dozen organizations, six churches and their members, and several private businesses and volunteers.

Police Chief Scott Kent, United Way Director Jen Jabas and Heather Molesworth with communities action told the Alexandria City Council Monday night that the area has needed a homeless shelter for "many, many years."

Jabas said that the number of people seeking coats, shelter and food this past October and November doubled or maybe even tripled. With the brutally cold winter settling in, the United Way and communities action realized they had to do something right away, Jabas said.

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"Homelessness is real," she added. "No one should have to go without a home."

The six local churches are taking turns providing shelter. Those who need it check in between 5:30 and 7 p.m. The program is for those 18 and older.

They receive an evening meal and they dine with church members. They are also provided with a hygiene kit, a cot to sleep on, quilts and pillows. In the morning, they eat breakfast and receive a sack lunch.

Council members were impressed with the effort and how well it is going.

"It's amazing how fast you got this off and running," said Mayor Bobbie Osterberg.

Kent credited Jabas and Molesworth for their "dedication, compassion, empathy" and all the long volunteer hours they put into the effort.

Jabas said it's been a privilege to work with so many partners, which included the churches, local businesses such as Common Ground, the Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf, Horizon Public Health, the YMCA for providing hot showers, the Community Coalition, and donors and volunteers throughout the area.

"It takes a whole community to wrap your arms around a neighbor in need," Jabas said.

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Police chief upbeat about hiring officer

The Alexandria City Council authorized the city’s police commission to begin the hiring process for a police officer.

The position, which was included in the police department’s 2022 budget, will bring the department back to staffing levels that it had before COVID-19 hit. The position was not immediately replaced because of the financial uncertainty of the 2021 budget.

The hiring process typically takes about three months but Kent was encouraged by what he saw when the police department attended a job fair at the Alexandria Technical and Community College.

In a memo to the council, he noted, “I am excited to tell you we have some amazing talent in the law enforcement program and several of them had a desire to stay in our community. The timing to start the hiring process to retain the student who wants to serve our community is now.”

Kent
Scott Kent

In other police department news:

  • Kent recognized Jeff James for his 18 years of service on the police commission and the hundreds of hours of volunteer time to the police department and city. “Jeff has been a tremendous supporter of our organization,” Kent said. “He has assisted in every officer’s hiring or promotion process in our department.” James received a plaque for his work. "It's all about these guys," James said motioning to the police officers who attended the meeting, "and supporting them in any way I can."
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Alexandria police officers and Chief Scott Kent (far right) gathered to congratulate Jeff James for his 18 years of service to the city's police commission. James' family members were also at Monday's council meeting. James had a hand in hiring more than 24 officers over the years.
Al Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

  • An above-ground water line broke inside the police department's mechanical room in the early morning hours of Jan. 30. Between 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of water flooded half of the building, Kent said. Pumps and boilers were damaged. Kent said the total damage will amount to between $150,000 and $200,000 and most of it will be covered through insurance. The chief thanked his staff for their resilience and patience while dealing with the clean-up.
  • The council voted to appoint Michele Boston to the police commission. Four candidates applied for the vacant position.

Adult Teen Challenge seeks annexation

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge is requesting a small one-acre parcel of its land in LaGrand Township to be annexed into the city.

The council voted to accept the petition, notify LaGrand Township and Douglas County about the request, and give the annexing ordinance preliminary approval.

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The property is located on Shady Lane near Lake Winona.

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Centers offer a broad range of services. It provides Christian faith-based, residential care to young people and adults who struggle with life-controlling problems.

The Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Center plans to build on a 14-acre site at 525 Willow Drive on the northwest shoreline of Lake Winona. It was the home of Dr. William Heegaard and his wife, Josie.

The project consists of five parcels which will be combined, including the parcel in LaGrand Township.The center will include 19 units as well as a chapel, dining hall, kitchen, a half-gym, classrooms, fitness facilities, staff offices, parking, and other accessory uses. About 30 staff members will work at the center.

Study looks into how welcoming city is

How welcoming is the city of Alexandria?

A new survey will look into that question. The council agreed to authorize up to $8,500 to conduct a “Welcoming Community Assessment” offered through the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality.

The city’s cultural inclusiveness committee will work with the extension center. The committee recently completed a strategic planning session that led members to conclude that in order to be effective in leveraging city resources, the group needs to know about the current state of the community.

The study will help the committee to focus its efforts, identify key community partners and allow members to clearly define their purpose.

“We believe the outcome of the committee’s work based on the report findings, which includes ongoing coaching, will help us achieve our goal of becoming a more welcoming community” the committee said in a memo to the council.

Good news for city streets

The municipal aid the city receives from the state will total $1,287,117 in 2022 – a 13% increase from its allotment last year.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said this is good news for the city because it will help fund state aid projects and the city’s local street overlay projects this summer.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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