Minnesota Constructs Alternatives to Shelter

by Tammy Antonille

            The goal of Catholic Charities pay-to-stay program in Minneapolis St. Paul was not only to provide housing for the homeless but also to instill them with a sense of self worth and accountability. The “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” program began July 1st 2002. So far, the results have been positive.

            A task force in the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County conceived the program. The task force was looking at the way shelter services were administered to single homeless adults. They made recommendations for improvement and changes to the system. One of the recommendations was to convert one floor of the two-story shelter known as the “Secure Waiting Facility” from a simple shelter to an administered, sober, pay-to-stay facility. Previously the facility housed 250 single adult men, 125 on each floor. The expectations for movement of the men were almost non-existent. The facility was used by many as a “home” instead of a stopping point to self-sufficiency. In fact, some men had been taking up residency in the shelter since 1987.

            The new goal oriented program is being implemented by Catholic Charities under a contract with Hennepin County. A grant was received from Minneapolis Community Development Agency to renovate the second floor. They added restroom facilities as well as new beds and lockers. In a Catholic Charities Newsletter printed in 2001, their hopes were stated for the second floor of the Curie Avenue facility as it became a place where the men would take part in their own recovery process. They anticipated that the new found responsibility would aid the men in finding permanent housing.

            Homeless men make up about 60 to 70 percent of the residents at the Curie Avenue facility. Other transient people such as drug addicts or the mentally ill individuals make up the balance. The first floor of the facility is still available to those homeless persons who have circumstances that exclude them from participating in the pay-to-stay concept.

            The men pay $3 per night, $18 dollars per week for a pay-to-stay bunk. They must submit to a brief intake interview with the program coordinator for admittance. Upon entering the program they receive all they need for personal hygiene and are given access to the showers and a locker. Free meals are available at the Salvation Army next door. Another benefit of the program is the ACCESS outreach workers and the County Chemical Health staff that are available to the men for counseling. The men can also see a Healthcare for the Homeless nurse. They can stay for up to 90 days. This time limit was established so the pay-to-stay facility would not turn into “permanent affordable housing”. Another difference in this program is that the beds are not available 24 hours a day. The men must be gone by 7 A.M. and cannot return until 5 P.M.

            The most significant contribution this program makes in the lives of these men is the refund policy. If they should find permanent housing; Catholic Charities will make a contribution towards the rent or damage deposit in the amount that the men paid for their bunk during their stay. If the men do not find permanent housing, they never see their money again. The money, if not used by the program participants, is reinvested in the program to buy towels, hygiene supplies and other items that are not covered by the Hennepin County contract.

The men who do not find permanent housing have access to program staff and advocates from the state, federal, local and private sectors that do outreach at the facility. They will assist the men is searching for other housing accommodations. The option also remains to return to the lower level of the facility, which is a simple shelter, or they may re-enter the program after nine months.

            According to John Petroskas, Shelter & Housing Specialist of the Metrowide Engagement on Shelter and Housing, nearly 100 men have received funds towards their rent from Catholic Charities upon moving on to permanent housing. However, the money is not given directly to the men; instead it is given to the landlord once paperwork has been presented.

            Issues still exist according to local reports. For example there is a shortage, as in most cities, of affordable housing options. More Single Room Occupancy style housing is needed for people with low incomes, bad rental history, criminal backgrounds, mental health issues and chemical dependency problems. But overall this program and concept, which specifically targets adult males, seems to be working according to Catholic Charities officials. The goals is to instill self-worth and responsibility for ones own well-being which it is hoped will lead these men to a more dignified life. Helping them to find housing stability with a small contribution at the end of their stay is what makes this program unique. Advocates in Cleveland and other cities and counties are looking at the results of these types of programs and investigating whether these strategies can address the huge problem of overflowing shelters.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio 2003.