May 20, 2024 | By: Matthew Freeman

Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter Holds Groundbreaking for New Bemidji Facility

After many years of fundraising, the Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter recently held a groundbreaking ceremony for their new facility in Bemidji.

A new shelter has been on the drawing board for many years, but Friday marked the very first day of construction for the building.

“We’ve owned this land since the ’70s,” said Chris Latzke, Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter Executive Director. “22 years ago when I worked here as an undergrad at BSU, they were talking about it. The board actually started this about seven years ago with some seed money from Women United. So I came in in November of 2021, right kind of in the midst of COVID. The last two-and-a-half years has been full force, and the community, the Capital Campaign Committee, the board of directors, everybody came together to raise $3.9 million in about two years.”

The new building designed by DSGW Architects will feature eight bedrooms with en suites, five offices, a children’s playroom, a therapy room, among other things.

“We put so much intentional thought into the way that we laid the shelter out and it kind of came to a consensus with the group on how it should function and be safe and be pleasant and beautiful for the users,” stated Julie Spiering, DSGW Architects Interior Designer. “We just wanted to see a space created that was safe and comfortable and healing for folks.”

In 2022, the shelter turned away 553 survivors due to lack of space. With the new 7,775 square foot building, the organization hopes that it never has to turn anyone away again.

“25 years ago, my first job as a social worker was at the women’s shelter, and I saw then all of the gaps and services that came with that building, whether it was accessibility because somebody had mobility issues or there weren’t enough beds, or even if it was a male who needed that support, that didn’t exist,” said Bemidji Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera, who was at the groundbreaking. “To see today the efforts of all of the people who have gone over time to advocate, lobby, support and work for the safety and welfare of children is just, it’s so amazing.”

Many items throughout the ceremony, including construction helmets, were colored purple, and there was a very important reason why that was the case.

“Purple is the color of our ribbon, it’s all of us coming together in solidarity to recognize domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, and just all to be together, just the kind of talk about it,” Latzke explained. “Later tonight at our gala, [we’re] going to have our big celebration, we’re going to have some survivor stories. But over half of our staff of 12 are survivors of domestic violence.”

Local community leaders, along with a large crowd in attendance for the groundbreaking, can’t wait for the new facility.

“This is incredibly exciting and rewarding,” said Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince. “I know that this board of directors and staff have been working on this for years. We’re talking about millions of dollars that had to be raised. And so to be able to be here and see the groundbreaking and knowing that in a year or so, we’re going to have a new shelter that will be able to provide the services that our community desperately needs – I’m excited.”

The project is estimated to take 10 months to complete, and is expected to done in the spring of 2025.

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