Edina site could shelter homeless suburban kids

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2014 - 5:05 AM

Advocates say the apartments near Southdale would help “invisible” young people.

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Lee Blons

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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A seemingly unlikely location — Edina — has been chosen as the place to build the first apartment building for homeless young people in the western suburbs.

Local churches are working with Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative of St. Paul to convert a TCF Bank building near Southdale into a 39-unit apartment building with space for counselors who would help homeless youths finish school and find jobs.

The choice of upscale Edina is not as odd as it seems, said Lee Blons, Beacon’s executive director. Each day, she said, an estimated 300 kids are homeless in the western suburbs, a largely invisible population that drifts from friends’ couches to living in cars. Growing up in suburbs, they often are reluctant to go to cities like Minneapolis for help, even though resources for the homeless are concentrated there.

“This would serve kids [from] Bloomington, Hopkins, Minnetonka,” Blons said. “We can help them finish their education, get a job, learn some basic life skills.”

Beacon recently made a presentation to Edina’s Planning Commission and will do so again before the City Council next week. Beacon has a partner in Edina Community Lutheran Church, which has committed $80,000 and a considerable staff and parishioner time toward the $9 million project.

The congregation became interested in doing something more after more than a decade of periodically hosting homeless families in the church basement, said Lauren Morse-Wendt, the church’s mission and ministry developer. Church members toured Beacon’s Nicollet Square residence for homeless youths in Minneapolis with the intention of collecting items or offering résumé help to kids. They came away with bigger ambitions.

“We said, ‘Wait a minute, we can do something so much bigger than that,’ ” Morse-Wendt said. “Edina is known as a community that cares about kids. We felt we could be at the forefront of helping homeless youth in the west suburbs.”

Parishioners are drumming up support among 30 other congregations in the west metro area, she said, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Project supporters also have met with the Edina City Council and representatives from nearby condo projects, property owners, Fairview Southdale Hospital, businesses at Southdale and other Edina institutions.

The bank building, at 3330 W. 66th St., is located largely in the midst of businesses, although housing is being added in the area. Beacon would expand the building, dubbed “66 West,” to make space for 39 studio apartments, each between 355 and 456 square feet. The building would contain offices, a community area for residents, a fitness room, computer lab and laundry room.

Planning Commission members asked about having only 25 parking stalls for the apartment building, but Blons said few residents would own cars. The building is across the street from a Metro Transit bus stop.

Help with school, jobs

Most residents would be 18 or 19 years old, and many probably would not have finished high school, Blons said. While there is a strong tie between adult homelessness and mental illness, that is less prevalent in a young population, she said.

“What we see is a lot of disruption coming from the family,” she said. “You see kids who have had trauma because of drug abuse in the family, physical or sexual abuse that they fled. They may have moved a lot, or they may have been homeless.”

Residents would work on finishing school, holding a job, paying rent, “dealing with life and gaining confidence,” Blons said. Counseling would be available, and Blons hopes that young people who have seen adults as predators would learn to connect with caring people.

Beacon sees Southdale as an ideal location because of the many entry-level jobs created in the area. Medical services in the Southdale area hire 20 to 30 people a month, many of them at entry-level positions, Blons told the Planning Commission.

Most residents would be expected to stay a year or two before moving on with their lives.

“Housing is the first step,” Blons said. “Then you provide services to move forward.”

Complex process

Putting together a project like 66 West is complex. Beacon would first acquire the bank building, then go through the process of funding the project, Blons said. Sources could include money from the state and county, federal low-income housing tax credits and rental assistance from groups such as the Metropolitan Council.

It took three years to put together the deal for Nicollet Square, Beacon’s first residence for homeless youths.

“Three years is successful in this work,” Blons said. Beacon has a similar project, Prior Crossing, in the works in St. Paul.

The presentations in Edina have been informational so far, and 66 West would have many more steps to take through the city before becoming reality.

 

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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