More than two dozen men were abruptly displaced last month from a transitional housing program in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood, and they say they are still wondering why.
The program, run by the nonprofit Better Futures Minnesota, has since ceased operations with little explanation at the apartment building that housed the men. Hennepin County authorities have cited "criminal activity" at the building of which at least one Better Futures staffers was aware, according to a state official.
But advocates for the displaced men are demanding to know why authorities didn't simply remove the individual culprits rather than ordering everyone to leave.
Jake Wylie, who served three years in prison for methamphetamine possession, said his probation officer told him to go by Nov. 1, giving him only a week's notice, without saying why. Some say they got less than 24 hours notice.
Wylie, who left prison eight months ago and now works as a supervisor for a demolition company operated by Better Futures, stays sober and hasn't failed a single urinalysis, he said. He has since moved to a more expensive rooming house, where he isn't allowed to have visitors.
"If someone is moving me and they won't tell me why I have to move, that somebody must be moving me because they want me to fail," said Wylie, 29. "It doesn't make sense."
Better Futures' interim CEO J. Alex Frank said Hennepin County officials gave no reason for taking clients out of his program and called the move "unfortunate and bizarre."
The 72-unit apartment building, called Great River Landing, was opened in 2019 by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative in partnership with Better Futures. Beacon CEO Lee Blons confirmed that county probation and state corrections officers abruptly ordered 25 to 30 men to leave the building in the first week of October.
Another 30 tenants — those who are no longer on supervised release or probation — continue to live there, she said. But Better Futures ended its programming at Great River Landing last week, despite six ongoing service contracts with Hennepin County totaling $2.7 million. The men who still live there are no longer receiving the same services for social reintegration.
According to Hennepin County spokesperson Carolyn Marinan, the county had received reports of criminal activity at Great River Landing. She declined to specify the alleged activity, when it happened or who committed it.
The activity "caused concern for the safety of our clients and our staff, who routinely visit clients at their supportive housing," Marinan said in a statement. "The county responded promptly to increase visits and monitoring at this location, and to cooperate with investigations regarding the reported activity."
Blons said a Better Futures official gave Beacon an additional detail: Drugs were allegedly found in one apartment. She said the county corrections department told her they were moving the 25 to 30 men for "safety concerns." She said they provided additional information "but I am not disclosing it."
Tim Chapple, a former housing supervisor at Great River Landing, said that two months ago he took agents from the Minnesota Department of Corrections' Intensive Supervised Release program to one client's apartment, where he heard them say they found drugs.
Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said there were reports of one or more Better Futures staff members who were "either involved in or knowingly allowed" illegal drug activity.
Told of Schnell's comment, CEO Frank said: "They are serious allegations. We will cooperate with any investigation."
In the meantime, Beacon is temporarily supporting tenants still at the building while it searches for a new service provider, Blons said. She expects that will take three to four months and that Beacon will face a shortfall of about $500,000 over the next six months from lost rent, service costs and a need to hire front desk and security personnel.
"We are appealing to the county and community for help," Blons said.
Great River Landing has had about 70 police calls this year in response to fights, property damage, welfare checks and other problems. But Jamar Nelson, a former Better Futures life skills coach, said he was skeptical of the county's claim that people were unsafe there. He's worried his former clients may reoffend and wind up back in jail.
"One guy losing his home through no fault of his own is enough, right?" Nelson said. "The county has to be transparent and give them a full explanation as to what happened. ... Those men deserve to know why they were displaced."
Since Better Futures pulled out of Great River Landing and Nelson and Chapple were laid off, they said they've had trouble finding social work jobs due to the vague statements of authorities about criminal activity there. "They don't want to deal with nobody from Better Futures," Chapple said.
Founded in 2007, Better Futures prided itself on providing job training and subsidized housing to men with a history of incarceration, unemployment and homelessness. But according to a state assessment conducted last year, Better Futures scored low on adherence to evidence-based practices and quality assurance. That was partly because it reported at the time that only 40% to 50% of clients were completing its program, and that it didn't track recidivism. Programs with a completion rate between 65% and 85% most effectively reduce recidivism, according to the assessment.
With felonies on their records, several men displaced from Great River Landing say it's been difficult to find new apartments. They say they can't make rent after losing the jobs they had through Better Futures, and haven't yet gotten their safety deposits back from Beacon (Blons said it's coming for those who provide a forwarding address). They've had to scramble to find alternative housing with friends, group homes and sober houses across the city.
Terelle Shaw, 42, said his supervised release officer neither explained why he had to leave Great River Landing nor helped him to find new housing. "I'm disappointed," he said. "I'm tired and defeated."
Daniel Adkins, 33, said he found a new place on his own but has no sustainable way to pay for it. He said he has donated plasma, borrowed money and pawned jewelry to raise $400 for rent — but he still owes $450 for the first month. "They left us stranded," he said.
Marinan said that no Hennepin County client was moved out of the building before "another suitable housing option" was found, and that county staffers had "worked diligently with clients to identify and secure suitable housing locations."
Minneapolis City Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, to whom advocates for the displaced men have appealed for help, said she's been unable to get more information from Better Futures or the county on what happened. "It's very secretive," she said.
Rayshon Bronson, 23, was released from prison in August after serving time for felony robbery and firearm possession, and went to live at Great River Landing. After his supervised release officer ordered him out in early October, he moved in with the mother of his son, Nikkita Page.
On Oct. 28, Minneapolis police went to Page's home and arrested Bronson on charges of violating the terms of his supervised release. He was held in Hennepin County jail, accused of "absconding from his residence and not maintaining an approved residence and also failing to maintain contact with his agent," said state Corrections Department spokesperson Nicholas Kimball.
"They paid for their mistakes, they've done their time, they've done everything society has asked them to do," said Jasmine Laducer-Kitto of the New Justice Project MN, at a news conference Thursday to draw attention to Bronson's re-imprisonment. "We set the rules up, they followed the rules, and we let them down."
Bronson was released from jail and returned to supervised release on Friday evening, according to Kimball.
Michelle Gross, of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said her organization tried to fight the men's expulsion from Great River Landing on grounds that they didn't get adequate notice or the chance to defend themselves in housing court, as guaranteed by state law.
But Great River Landing's property manager said there were no eviction proceedings because the men's supervised release officers were responsible for denying them access to their apartments, not landlord Beacon.
"The community has often been holding fundraising drives, GoFundMe, all kinds of things to try to assist these men," Gross said. "But where's the help from the state? Where's the help from the county? It's outrageous that these men are left in this position, and now some of them will be returned to prison simply for being homeless."