A St. Paul developer of affordable housing is making plans for a 70-unit apartment building for people who are homeless, after its leaders became increasingly troubled by the sight of a large homeless encampment in south Minneapolis.

Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a group of 90 congregations working to end homelessness, said Wednesday that it has launched a campaign to raise up to $1.5 million in private funds to develop a building in Minneapolis with intensive support services.

The project will be geared toward families and individuals who have been living on the streets and may have had difficulty finding housing because of their criminal histories, substance abuse problems and other obstacles.

The building will accept people who are unemployed or still struggling with addiction, often barriers to obtaining rental housing. Case managers will be on site to connect people with employment counseling, drug treatment, health care and other services.

The low-barrier project is based on the simple premise that people need safe and stable housing before they can address other problems in their lives, such as drug addiction and mental illness, Beacon officials said.

The decision to move forward with the project occurred after a delegation from Beacon paid an October visit to the homeless camp along Hiawatha and Franklin avenues, which began early this summer and is now home to approximately 120 people.

"It's painfully clear we need to build more homes," said Laura Vitelli, director of advancement and congregational engagement at Beacon. "What kind of community are we that we have people living in a massive tent community along the highway?"

Beacon does not have a site for the building or any funds, and does not expect the building to be ready for another three to four years. However, Beacon does have a long history of developing affordable housing: The nonprofit has built 19 apartment buildings over the past 15 years that collectively house more than 800 people.

Beacon has also been active at the homeless camp in recent months. It has worked with Red Lake Nation and Avivo, another large nonprofit, to move approximately 35 people from the Hiawatha homeless camp to two of its buildings in St. Paul.

"We believe in meeting people where they are," Vitelli said. "We look for ways to screen people in rather than screen people out."

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308 Twitter: @chrisserres