St. Louis Park housing agency abruptly slashes programs and staff after 40 years
A St. Louis Park agency that has served women and children for over 40 years cut all of its children’s programs and clinical services, plus most of its staff this month, due to a financial crisis.
The news from Perspectives Inc. came as an unexpected announcement to founder and former CEO Jeannie Seeley-Smith, who retired six months ago.
“It sounds like a tsunami came in, just wiped out Perspectives,” Seeley-Smith said. “It was pretty shocking that I did not have any idea there were some other things that had happened. I’m saying, ‘Oh, my goodness, you know, I can’t let the agency fail the women the children, I will come back you know, non grata, just to come back in and help save the agency.'”
Seeley-Smith explained that about seven years ago, the agency began receiving hundreds of thousands in federal dollars per year from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but in order to receive those funds, it had to allow active drug users instead of only mothers in recovery onto campus, a model called Housing First.
That model, Seeley-Smith says, brought on its own challenges with a spike in crimes.
“We would have apartments that were destroyed. It was like, you know, just a round peg in a square hole,” she said. “It just did not work.”
The agency reversed back to its initial model last year despite losing that federal funding. At the same time, other contracts backed out and money wasn’t coming in. Now, the agency is $3 million in the hole.
“I just, you know, wish they had told us they were in trouble so that our community could have stepped forward and helped before the doors closed,” said Linda Trummer, a volunteer at Perspectives.
Trummer got to know some of the families and says many remain fearful of losing housing.
“They might not have a rental history that will allow them to get into another property. It’s going to be pretty challenging for them if they lose that housing,” she said.
Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt witnessed firsthand the impact the program has made on families. Her mother and brother both worked at Perspectives for years.
“A lot of those kids who don’t have that father figure; my brother was that to them,” Witt said. “I just feel like there could have been more done to bring awareness to the financial struggles that the program was having.”
Witt says the program is needed more than ever amid a drug epidemic. Her hope is that it will be saved.
“All the issues going on with our juvenile population. That’s the stability that some of those kids, the only stability, that they know,” said Witt.
Trummer tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the community is rallying around the families and there is a meeting planned next week to discuss potential agencies that could collaborate with Perspectives.