By Reg Chapman

POLK COUNTY, Wis. (WCCO) — A Polk County, Wisconsin, homeless shelter is waiting to see if its lease will be renewed.

Serenity Home took over an abandoned jail in Balsam Lake 8 years ago, but there are concerns that some residents are causing problems in the community.

Shelter advocates say without Serenity Home, dozens of people wouldn’t have anywhere to go. They say most who live there have cognitive or mental health conditions.

Tom Palmer is one of 18 people who call the shelter home.

“We all felt the tension, that’s for sure,” he said.

Palmer says he and the others at the shelter are concerned that the county has not renewed the shelter’s lease.

The shelter was late applying for renewal.

When they reapplied, some in the Village of Balsam Lake began to complain about theft, loitering and criminal mischief.

However, the shelter social services director, Duana Bremer, says that she has never been told of any problems.

“One of the things that they have stated is that we are attracting a criminal element,” Bremer said. “Well, just because someone is homeless does not mean they are a criminal.”

Polk County Administrator Dana Frey says a committee has been formed that includes area nonprofits to address the issue of homelessness.

He says Serenity Shelter is a temporary solution in need of a permanent fix.

“I’m about 99.9 percent sure that their lease will be extended for at least another three years and that kicks off a process…of looking for a permanent location,” Frey said.

A meeting in Balsam Lake next week could determine if the shelter’s lease is renewed. Many on both sides are expected to pack the Polk County Board of Supervisors meeting.


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