Advocates for homeless propose new ‘opportunity’ centers

The Commission to End Homelessness is looking to convert a successful one-stop shop experiment into two permanent Minneapolis centers.

Daytime Opportunity Centers would give people experiencing homelessness a single resource base where they could find information on housing, employment, benefits and legal aid. The commission had previously planned to open one center Downtown, but the commission members now believe they may open one center serving single adults and a second center for youth and families.

The joint city of Minneapolis-Hennepin County Commission to End Homelessness is working to end homelessness in 10 years by coordinating and intensifying prevention, outreach and supportive housing efforts.

The commission's drafted plan calls for identifying an Opportunity Center location in 2007 and opening the center in 2009. One possible site commission members said might be optimal for single adults is the two-block area bounded by North 10th and 11th streets and Hawthorne and Glendale avenues. The site currently houses the Ramada Inn as well as shelters run by Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.

The state approved legislation allowing the city to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District at the site that would require half of the site's rising property taxes to be devoted to improvements for the two shelters. The TIF money could also be used to construct an Opportunity Center.

Plans for a permanent Opportunity Center in Minneapolis are designed to open doors for youth (government budget cuts have reduced youth shelter service hours) and enhance accessibility for people with mental illness or other special needs.

The mayor has pledged $100,000 in the 2007 budget to pay for two outreach workers that would assist the police department. The outreach workers would link people on the street experiencing homelessness with the services they need.

&#8220It is a waste of money to arrest someone, send them to an overcrowded criminal justice system and do it all over again,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said at a press conference last week that celebrated the Commission's plan to end homelessness. Rybak also noted he plans to &#8220crack down” on panhandling.

Other resources that may be allocated to the project, which would cost $45 million in the first three years of implementation, include $500,000 pledged by the McKnight Foundation. That money may be matched by Hennepin County, said Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman.

One of the driving concepts behind the Commission to End Homelessness is to provide permanent supportive housing first to the people who chronically experience homelessness and need it most. By eliminating worries about day-to-day survival, advocates say it is cheaper and easier to focus secondly on treatment of mental illness and chemical dependency, or help people find employment and look to the future.

Project members expect to have county and city approval of their strategy by December, with official implementation beginning in January.

Michelle Bruch can be reached at mbruch@mnpubs.com and 436-4372.