New Housing Project Helps Residents Climb Out of Homelessness
It's being touted as a new national model to help end homelessness.
Thursday, Catholic Charities will open a state-of-the-art $18 million housing facility in Northwest Minneapolis. And it's designed to help the homeless move on up -- literally.
The new building, called "Higher Ground," is seven stories, from an emergency shelter on the ground level to studio apartments on the top floor. The hope is that the homeless who come will "graduate" from floor to floor as their lot in life improves.
But first, to understand the full significance of the new building, you have to go to the old. Outside Catholic Charities' shelter called "Secure Waiting"-- just a few blocks away from "Higher Ground" -- 28-year-old Razi Rhodes is waiting for the doors to open at 5 p.m. "Until something comes better," he says, "this is what we have."
For six months, Rhodes has come here -- one of hundreds that line up daily. There are a dozen or so shelters like this in the Twin Cities. Inside, those who come get a free meal, a shower, and a thin grey pad with no sheets or pillow to sleep on. "I just take a mat and lay on it," Razi says.
On the first floor, there is room for 125 mats. Men sleep six inches apart. Women and children aren't allowed; there are separate shelters for them.
On the second floor, there are 126 bunk beds crammed together. Every single night, every single mat and every single bed is occupied.
Catholic Charities reports a 21 percent increase in shelter use in the last two years. Since 2006, there's been a 24 percent increase nationwide in the number of adults experiencing homelessness. In Minnesota, it's estimated that on any given night 13,000 people have no place to call home.
When "Secure Waiting" opened in 1996, it was only meant to be temporary. It's taken 16 years, 10 years of planning, major funding from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Hennepin County, and private investors, but Catholic Charities believes it's finally found a permanent solution.
"Higher Ground," located at 165 Glenwood Avenue North, is meant to inspire the down and out to climb back into society.
On the first floor, beds with clean, fresh linens. No more mats on the floor. "This provides people a place that tells them that they have dignity," says Paul Martodam, the former CEO of Catholic Charities.
On the second floor, it's a "pay to stay" plan -- $7 a night. Most people here will actually work. According to John Petroskas, Catholic Charities program outreach manager, "They just don't have the economic security it takes to get housing." There's also a computer room to help in the search for a better job.
On floors three through six, single room private quarters complete with a mini-refrigerator, a microwave, and even cable TV hook-up. Many who stay here with have their rooms paid for by Minnesota's Group Residential Housing Program, a program that pays rent and provides room and board in exchange for reducing individuals' public benefits. Bathrooms and a kitchen are shared, but there's also a residence advisor to assist.
And on the top floor, private studio apartments. "It's a graduated kind of progression of housing options," Martodam says. People here will pay a third of their income--whether it's from a fast food job or a disability payment. "It's unique in the country. You'll see people moving up."
All in the same building. Razi Rhodes can't wait.
"Going to a place like that will give a person a better chance," he says, "and a lot of self esteem to help 'em move where they want to be."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org