BEMIDJI — Without housing, meeting other goals in life can be incredibly difficult.
This statement is the foundation for the work done by Housing Matters in Bemidji, whose efforts to provide housing and resources to those experiencing homelessness were recently recognized by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
In a small ceremony held at the Housing Matters office on Tuesday, Sept. 27, the organization was presented with a Circle of Excellence Award for its work, which helps vulnerable people onto a path where they can meet their other goals in life by providing them with stable housing.
“It’s clear that Housing Matters plays an integral role in housing services, not just in Bemidji but across the county and the region,” said Minnesota DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, who came to Bemidji to present the award.
Housing Matters received two nominations for the award, one from a state DHS manager, and the other from two members of the Beltrami County Department of Health and Human Services, Will Haubrich and Anne Lindseth.
Each of these nominations highlighted the importance of the work that Housing Matters is involved in and the commitment that its Executive Director Patrick Harrington and the staff have to its mission.
“It’s a small thing in my mind to recognize the obvious, in that we have someone here who embodies excellence,” Haubrich said in a brief address. “It became apparent that (Harrington) was a leader, and this program was a leader in our community and they were having a significant impact.”
When speaking about what the award and the organization’s work mean to him, Harrington expressed his gratitude both for the recognition and for the employees that make Housing Matters’ efforts possible.
“The thing that makes me the proudest at Housing Matters is our remarkable staff,” Harrington said. “It’s no small feat, but through their passion for the work, their passion for the participants, they’ve demonstrated that teamwork and shared vision can make a difference.”
During his address, Harrington emphasized that the most important aspect of Housing Matters’ work was the participants that the organization serves.
“Most importantly, I’d like to thank our participants. Their resilience and strength continue to amaze me,” Harrington shared. “It’s such a joy to see those receiving housing who have continued to have hope despite the hardships and trauma they’ve endured.”
While Harrington thanked the program’s participants, some of whom were in the audience, his voice caught with emotion.
“They’re survivors, and over the past 20 years of doing this work (they’ve) taught me the most,” Harrington said.
Those who had been impacted by Housing Matters also had the opportunity to speak and shared touching testimonies of how the organization had helped them and what that assistance meant to them.
“I was incarcerated and I told (Housing Matters) I just needed a chance, and they gave that to me,” shared Clara Kirkie. “Since then I’ve been able to get custody of my boys, I enrolled in college, and I’m going to be graduating in the spring.”
While saying this, Kirkie also became overcome by emotion, thanking Housing Matters with tears in her eyes for how it had helped her change her life.
Kirkie’s experience was echoed by others in the audience, who shared how the organization had also helped them when they were vulnerable and struggling.
“I’ve been in this program four years now, and I was just coming out of treatment for active addiction,” said Kara Lussier. “They helped me get my kids back. I did relapse one time since I got into the program, but I got back up and I still have my kids and my home, and it’s thanks to Housing Matters.”
The people Housing Matters serves weren’t the only ones who shared how it had changed their lives.
“The rewards are so fulfilling. Just seeing the looks on my client's faces when they get the keys handed to them for their new house, this is the best job I’ve ever had,” said Chris Branchaud, who works as a case manager with Housing Matters.
Branchaud also briefly shared his own experience of homelessness, and what it means to him to be able to help others in that situation.
“Me and my family, about 10 or 12 years ago, we were long-term homeless, so I know exactly what it’s like to go through,” Branchaud said. “To be from that place in my life, homeless, to now where I’m helping people find housing and make their homes, it’s pretty awesome.”
Housing Matters and the work it does has had an obvious impact on people’s lives, and everyone who was in attendance when it received its award recognized that and looked forward to continuing to work with the organization.
“I consider myself privileged to be working with this program in whatever way we can,” Haubrich said. “I’m grateful that they came to our community, and I think our community is grateful as well.”