Clifford Terrell took it personally when he learned that the only shelter for single men in Dakota County would be closing its doors Dec. 1.
Terrell, 52, struggles with lupus and had a heart attack in June. He said the 32-bed shelter run by Cochran House is providing residents with a safe place to recover until they can get back on their feet again.
“We wouldn’t have a place to go if not for Cochran House,” Terrell said.
The Hastings men’s shelter opened in 2010 with the help of Kenny Johnson, who was once homeless himself. Johnson, now the house coordinator for Cochran House, drifted between other shelters for 13 years as he tried to get a job and stay sober.
The nonprofit agency that runs the shelter has been unable to raise enough money for the past few years to keep it open. It will stop taking in new homeless men Nov. 1, Johnson said.
“I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen to these guys,” he said. “It makes me too sad.”
Homelessness is a growing problem in Dakota County. Apartment vacancy rates hover around 2 percent and about three dozen homeless residents stayed at an emergency shelter that moved from church to church last winter.
Government officials are trying to address the issue, said Madeline Kastler, the county’s housing manager. Dakota County will spend $45,000 on a 50-bed, professionally managed shelter for single adults that will rotate between churches this winter, Kastler said. A countywide work group is researching options for a permanent shelter.
The closure of Cochran House’s shelter makes things that much harder.
“One step forward, one step back,” Kastler said. “We thought we were going to be way ahead of the curve this winter and now we’ll be kind of cutting it even.”
The county propped up Cochran House in 2015, but its money problems continued, said Rick Terzick, Cochran House’s executive director. The program had a $40,000 loss in 2016 and is projected to lose $60,000 more this year on a projected budget of $435,000.
Grant funding has dried up, Terzick said, and expenses — including nearly $20,000 each month in food costs — are only growing.
Though the shelter will shut down, Terzick said, a detox center and chemical dependency treatment program Cochran House runs in Hastings will remain open.
‘A different way’
Dakota County has other resources for homeless people. A south metro nonprofit called 360 Communities runs the Lewis House shelters in Eagan and Hastings, which provide short-term housing for female victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
The Dakota Woodlands facility in Eagan has space for four single women and 18 families. However, that shelter has a waiting list of 57 families, Kastler said — and no space for single men.
Homeless men — many of whom are re-entering the community from prison or jail — have few options in Dakota County.
Cochran House has filled that gap.
“We take men no one else will take,” Johnson said. “But we’ll take them because we believe in change.”
Cochran House lets men stay until they find permanent housing as long as they don’t use drugs or alcohol. Men find a sense of community at the shelter, Johnson said, along with stability.
Resident Steven Wiltermuth, 26, lost his mother to cancer last year right after he got out of prison. He said the staff at Cochran House talked him through his grief and helped keep him from using drugs.
“They showed me there’s a different way,” Wiltermuth said.
Joe Cooper, 37, landed in the shelter after he got out of prison in July. He credited Cochran House with getting him to commit to sobriety.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Cooper said. “They help you as much as you help yourself.”