Housing options would help homeless situation in Cass County

There are resources for people

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Homelessness doesn’t look the same in the Brainerd lakes area as it does in the Twin Cities.

There are no large tent encampments or packed shelters.

Instead, people without housing couch hop, live in their cars or camp in the woods or at local campgrounds in tents or campers, sometimes even year-round.

LuAnn Gravelle, office manager and food shelf coordinator at the Pine River-Backus Family Center, said in 2022 between 18 and 25 people who came to the family center explicitly told her they were homeless.

“Those are just the people that told me that they need housing,” Gravelle said. “That doesn’t include the people who came in and said, ‘I’m living in my car. I’m couch hopping.’”


Gravelle said she’s heard many different stories about why people are struggling with housing, but there is one overarching issue.

“There’s just a lack of housing everywhere,” said Ann Hunnicutt, director of Bridge on 7th warming shelter in Brainerd. “There’s no affordable housing.”

Hunnicutt has seen an increase in guests at the warming shelter coming from southern Cass County who have to stay at the shelter for longer periods of time because they aren’t able to easily travel to and from Brainerd, where there are more resources available.

Guests from Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, Crosslake and other nearby towns that are still in Crow Wing County likely need to travel to Brainerd, the county seat, for a variety of reasons.

But you get to Pine River, that’s Cass County. There’s nowhere (for them to go),
Ann Hunnicutt, director of Bridge on 7th

“But you get to Pine River, that’s Cass County. There’s nowhere (for them to go),” Hunnicutt said. “You can’t go north; there’s nothing north. So we’re probably the closest. And all we’re going to provide them with is a 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. warm place to sleep. We don’t feed them meals here. We don’t have showers.”

One man, who chose to remain anonymous, experienced homelessness from the summer of 2021 into the summer of 2022. He spent some time staying at a shelter in Brainerd, but he returned to the Pequot Lakes area so he could see his children more often.

He was unable to afford housing in the area and stayed wherever he could for a little while. Eventually a friend told him he had property on County Road 168 south of Pequot Lakes that was open to anyone in need, though the friend has since limited that practice.

“He would just allow people to come there and stay, be that in a car or whatever, and it grew into quite a few people,” the man said.


He camped there for the summer and into the winter, and he said it was not an experience he wants to repeat.

“(It’s) lots of work just to even maintain a campsite,” he said. “Just cooking a meal was a four-hour deal. It would rain on everything, and I’d have to go do it again. I was just ready to give up.”

After connecting with the Lakes Area Food Shelf, he was able to access more resources. Though he eventually found employment and through that was able to find a room to rent, finding housing took some time because of an additional barrier he faced.

“I have a background,” he said. “I’ve been in trouble before, drug use and other things like that. And that was the hugest thing, trying to find a place that would let a felon rent.”

He wasn’t alone in facing that barrier.

“A lot of your private landlords won’t rent to somebody if they have a felony conviction,” Hunnicutt said. “So they lose out on that opportunity.”

Those with felonies older than 10 years can qualify for federal or state-funded, income-based housing, Hunnicutt said, but those with convictions within the last 10 years do not.

“They have a barrier that nobody will rent to them,” Hunnicutt said. “Regardless if they’re working hard, they have a good job, they’ve been sober, they’ve completed probation. They might not be on any probation and have done everything they need to do, just nobody will rent to them.”


Hunnicutt said an additional barrier for income-based housing is the notification system. The only way people are notified that there is housing available to them is through the mail.

Hunnicutt said shelter guests will get their mail through general pickup at the post office, but if they miss the window for replying to their housing notification, they get put back on the list and have to wait again.

Gravelle said those on the verge of losing their housing also struggle because they can’t afford nonrefundable application fees that can only be paid online, meaning some of the vouchers Gravelle can sometimes offer can’t be applied.

In the future, things may change to help overcome these barriers. But right now there is a need for affordable housing throughout the Brainerd lakes area and more resources for those who aren’t based in Brainerd, Gravelle and Hunnicutt said

The PR-B Family Center is an existing resource that can help connect those experiencing or close to experiencing homelessness to services and provide aid applications, Gravelle said.

She can refer people to St. Vincent de Paul, the women’s shelter in Brainerd and the domestic violence shelter in Akeley and provide other types of assistance.

“Just talking to us or the people (at the Lakes Area Food Shelf), we can give that information,” Gravelle said. “And it’s not that it might not always be available. They may not know what’s available, so then we can guide them.”

Bridges of Hope in Brainerd also has resource connection specialists that can help guide people and connect them to county services, Lutheran Social Services or a variety of other assistance, Hunnicutt said.


As prices continue to rise, need will only continue to grow, Gravelle said.

“We could use more treatment centers. We could use transitional housing to help people have their supportive needs met so that they can move on to be successful, Gravelle said.

In a perfect world, there are a number of other new developments and resources she would like to see in the northern Brainerd lakes area.

“Apartment buildings. I think that’s huge, to do that,” Gravelle said. “The ([public)] transportation part’s huge. A hospital or smaller urgent care would be really great.”

There is one more thing the area needs more of, the anonymous man said: compassion.

“It seems like they don’t want to believe they have (homelessness), to tell you the truth,” he said. “Let alone that they will take the time to find out what a person’s situation is.”

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