New Grand Forks home aims to support youth who may be homeless in transitioning from foster care

Ernie’s Place, started in a UND policy class, will open in the new year and fill a gap in Grand Forks organizers say is not being filled.

By Matthew Voigt / Grand Forks Herald / EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of an ongoing series about homelessness in Grand Forks.

GRAND FORKS — A new Grand Forks facility will open in the new year with the goal of offering housing and support for youth and young adults trying to get a start in life.

Ernie’s Place, a transitional home for youth ages 18 to 24 who have aged out of foster care and who are homeless, aims to provide support for transitioning into independent living and permanent housing. The project was started by Shelamar Henderson and Safari Berry when they were graduate students at UND.

“It started in January of last year in a policy class as kind of a concept,” Henderson said. “It had started at Red River Valley Community Action before that, but in our policy classes was where our agreement to work together was born.”

When in the process of creating Ernie’s Place, Berry and Henderson toured similar facilities, including ones in Bemidji and Canada, to learn about different models of housing. Ernie’s Place seeks to fill a gap in social services provided to the community by providing a place for people who are coming out of the foster care system and may need help getting on their feet, they agreed.

“A lot of times when they’ve spent a long time in foster care, some of those (life) skills have been missed as they’ve been dealing with trauma and larger issues,” Berry said. “We want to give them a place where they can stabilize, feel safe and secure and focus on learning those skills that some of us took for granted, they were just a part of your everyday family.”

In addition to their duties at Ernie’s Place, Henderson and Berry still have their duties with Tri-Valley Opportunity Council and Red River Valley Community Action, respectively. When the facility opens, both Minnesota and North Dakota community action agencies will have a case manager working at the facility. According to Henderson, that means they’ll be able to provide assistance on whichever side of the Red River a resident may eventually decide to live.

Ernie’s Place has partnered with several community organizations, including the NDSU Extension office, which will help teach cooking and gardening skills to those involved with the program. The community partners also serve as the referral system to join the facility. The building is a former Red River Valley Community Action shelter that was sitting disused because of the pandemic. Henderson and Berry have spent the last year preparing the space for use.

“We’ve had a great outpouring (of support) from the community,” Henderson said. “Multiple churches have donated move-out kits, as we refer to them, where it’s blankets, pots and pans, dishes and those kinds of things in preparation for when (a person moves on from Ernie’s Place).”

According to Henderson and Berry, they’ve already received interest from their community partners for people who would like to be part of Ernie’s Place. They expect the facility will be full when it opens.

The house, located on the north side of Grand Forks, has six single-occupancy dormitory-style rooms and two one-bedroom apartments. The dorm-style rooms are for those with faster transitions and the apartments are for those who may need a longer stay, up to two years. Once a person leaves the facility, they’ll be able to have up to six months of case management services and be invited back to attend on-site skills classes.

“We’re hoping that they can build relationships and really find a place to feel community,” Berry said.

“We recognize some youth may be here only for a few months, and others will work to utilize their full max time, up to two years,” Henderson said.

Ernie’s Place is actively seeking donations. Those interested can either contact Shelamar Henderson, , or Safari Berry, .