Kit Hadley, the former director of Minneapolis public libraries and one of the architects of the city-suburban library system merger in Hennepin County, is turning her energies toward a new target: ending homelessness in Minnesota.

Hadley is the first executive director of Heading Home Minnesota, an umbrella organization formed by foundation officials and volunteers about a year ago to highlight efforts by cities, counties and the state to fight homelessness. With Hadley's appointment, the group is getting not only its first fulltime leader but also a project coordinator, clerical help and an office.

"Hiring Kit Hadley takes this to a whole different level ... because by putting a fulltime person in there they show that they mean business," said Laura Kadwell, the state's director for ending long-term homelessness.

"Kit herself brings another level of leadership to it with her long and extensive background in the housing authority and libraries," Kadwell said.

Carleen Rhodes, president and CEO of the St. Paul Foundation and Minneapolis Community Foundation and cochair of Heading Home Minnesota's steering committee, called Hadley "perfect for the part."

"There's a lot of excitement," Rhodes said. "She ... knows the issue well. This is a moral calling for her."

Hadley, 55, was Minneapolis library director for five years. Before that, she served nine years as commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Last month, Hadley's name surfaced as a possible leader for the merged Hennepin County libraries when Director Amy Ryan accepted a job leading Boston's public libraries. But Hadley, who lacks the graduate degree in library science that the job requires, said this week that she never thought that would happen.

"I absolutely loved my time at the Minneapolis Public Library, but I understood that merging would end my tenure," she said. "I have moved on."

Hadley started her new job Monday. She said she will concentrate on linking the strengths of private sector efforts to fight homelessness -- fundraising, visibility, influence and education -- with existing city, county and state efforts.

"There's actually been remarkable success stories around the country and in Minnesota. We're making real strides," she said.

According to a 2006 survey conducted by the Wilder Research Center in St. Paul, about 9,000 people in Minnesota were homeless each night. About 30 percent of those were children age 17 and younger.

In 2004, the state set a goal of creating 4,000 new permanent housing units with the intention of ending long-term homelessness by 2010. The state is more than halfway to that goal, with people placed in 2,068 housing units so far, Kadwell said. Hennepin, Ramsey, Olmsted and St. Louis counties have set their own goals to reduce homelessness, and organized regional efforts are underway in southwest, southeast and central Minnesota.

While goals differ depending on location, the state is aiming to help families or individuals who have been homeless for more than a year or who have been homeless on a recurring basis. That means having rental assistance and counseling or other help to fight accompanying problems including problems with drugs and alcohol, mental illness, domestic violence and lack of skills.

While that's expensive, experts believe that in the long term, keeping people in housing will not only save money in social services and on costs such as emergency room visits but will also help people become healthier and part of society again, Kadwell said.

"We have allowed people to live on the streets so long that they are much sicker than they were when they first went out on the streets," she said. "It costs a lot of money to be homeless."

Heading Home Minnesota has task forces working on philanthropy, public policy and getting businesses and faith communities involved in fundraising and volunteer work. Rhodes said she hopes Hadley will help the group spread its message to a wider audience and help coordinate efforts with the state and local homeless initiatives.

"She will help us take this effort to end homelessness to another level," Rhodes said.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380