Brooklyn Park officials have approved increased funding for a 12-bed youth homeless shelter that will cost the city up to $950,000 to build on city property.
The City Council, sitting as the Economic Development Authority (EDA), last week signed off on an additional $150,000 above the previous funding OK’d for the project. The higher cost will cover adding two emergency beds and building new rather than remodeling a fourplex, said Kim Berggren, community development director.
Berggren said that, assuming site rezoning is approved and bids are within budget, construction on the 5,000-square-foot shelter could start this summer. The $950,000 will come from excess tax-increment funds set aside for affordable housing and will not increase property taxes, Berggren said.
“I think building new we have better control and can put in what we want and can make it expandable” in the future, said Council Member Rich Gates. “This project is long needed.”
State officials have hailed the project as a model of cooperation by city officials, church and civic groups, noting it would be the first suburban youth shelter to offer emergency beds in addition to transitional housing. It will be operated by Avenues for Homeless Youth, a Minneapolis nonprofit organization.
“I think we are getting close to the launchpad,” said Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde. “I think construction will happen by the end of July. … We just need to finish the last pieces: rezoning and the fundraising campaign” for operating costs.
Berggren had asked the EDA to approve locating the shelter on a 1.4-acre vacant site owned by the city just east of W. Broadway Avenue on 76th Avenue N.
But after hearing concerns from neighbors, the council asked staff to check on a smaller site on Regent Avenue, Lunde said.
The EDA unanimously approved a motion to move forward with the shelter on a city-owned site, he said. The 76th Avenue site is preferable because it is within walking distance of Cub, Target, Applebee’s and other possible employers of those living in the shelter, he added.
Avenues for Homeless Youth, the operator, runs a youth shelter in north Minneapolis. Deb Loon, Avenues executive director, said at a meeting for neighbors last week that she is working with Hennepin County, foundations and local groups to raise about $600,000 a year needed to equip and staff the shelter 24 hours a day. She said it will be a “safe house” with intensive support services to annually serve 40 to 80 young people, ages 16 to 21, from the northwest suburbs.
So far more than $300,000, about half from a State Homeless Youth Act grant, has been raised or committed, officials said.
City money won’t be spent until more operating funds are raised, Berggren noted.
The Rev. Rachel Morey, a local pastor, said the Brooklyn Area Ministerial Association and civic groups are partnering with Avenues to raise funds to run the shelter.
Residents on 76th Avenue, however, are not enthralled with the prospect of a homeless shelter there. The neighbors asked a lot of questions at an open house held in City Council chambers before the EDA meeting last week.
“Shouldn’t we clean up the neighborhood first before we have a homeless shelter here?” asked Kathie Moberg.
Nancy McDougle said the neighborhood has started improving recently after enduring years of crime and wandering vagrants, with little help from the city.
“Now we are up against a homeless shelter. I don’t know if it will hurt property values or not,” she said.
Deputy Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt told residents his department “completely supports” the shelter, which will give officers a nearby place to take homeless young people they find on the streets at night. He noted that many young people have been diverted from loitering to activities at city-run Zanewood Recreation Center.
Ankerfelt also offered to bring a team of city officials to meet and discuss with residents how to improve the neighborhood and better enforce city rules against loitering, litter and problem rental homes.
Lunde told about 10 neighbors attending the open house that the shelter is needed because many of the homeless kids are from their city and are preyed on by pimps. He noted that area high schools have identified dozens of homeless students and have counselors who work with them.
The most recent statewide homeless count by the Wilder Foundation found 674 unaccompanied minors and young people ages 18 to 21 who were homeless in the metro area on Oct. 25, 2012. Wilder reported that 25 percent of the homeless young people said they had been turned away by a full shelter in the previous three months.