Irene Fernando’s [Updated] Statement on Planned Shelter at the Gordon Center
r***[Update on August 6, 2019 with FAQ section]
Gordon Center FAQ’s
The number of people and families experiencing unsheltered homelessness has grown substantially over the last several years, both across the country and locally in Hennepin County. At the direction of the County Board, Hennepin staff leaders have worked directly with those with the lived experiences of homelessness, as well as service providers, to develop a set of recommendations for the future of Hennepin County’s shelter policies and priorities. In 2019, the Hennepin County Board approved a shelter strategy, which includes a proposed shelter for people who identify as women at the Gordon Center facility in the Willard-Hay neighborhood.The Hennepin County board in 2019 approved funds for shelters in general and shelters for women. The Hennepin County board never mentions the Gordon Center in any of their public Board meeting documents.
The District 2 Office published a statement on this project on July 31, 2020, and since then we have received questions and concerns. Thank you for reaching out and for trusting us with your feedback. There were several consistent themes that emerged, which are addressed in this FAQ section of the statement. Our intention is to transparently respond to community feedback, questions, concerns, and suggestions regarding the proposed shelter at the Gordon Center.
My office has also heard feedback around a Youth Center to address increasing violence on the Northside. I am dedicated to the issue of violence involving youth, and invite conversations and proposals from residents and service providers, so that we can meet the growing needs. I am confident there are actions that must be taken this year, as well as conversations that must begin immediately, in order to serve youth and address this violence. The Northside feedback is not general feedback; it is feedback about the use of the Gordon Center for an emergency high-volume shelter in an already marginalized residential community when there are other options available. The Northside community has been lobbying since before 2014 for a youth center at this educational site.
Counties are the main governing entity with the statutory authority to implement shelter. Shelters are set up to be temporary places to stay while individuals are experiencing homelessness. As a result, Hennepin County has specific leadership responsibility to address the growing needs of our unsheltered residents, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health emergency and made more visible by the growing tent encampments in parks. These tent encampments are predominantly in South. In fact, there is a park next to the Gordon Center and there have been no encampments to date at this park or at the nearby North Commons Park. Placing an emergency shelter in a residential park is, in essence, creating the exact scenario the Commissioner is stating she would like to avoid. This emergency shelter is high-volume and does not allow for longer-term stays. Residents will be turned out each morning with no food, restroom, or heated public building (for winter) in walking distance. Rather, there is the park and children’s playground to spend time in despite children and families not being allowed at this shelter.
People seeking emergency shelter must apply by phone or in person to the Adult Shelter Connect office. This office, funded by Hennepin County and operated by Simpson Housing, provides a single point of entry to people experiencing homelessness to all County-funded shelters. People are prioritized for specific shelter settings, based on their needs and the support and services available at each shelter location.
Adult Shelter Connect will prioritize shelter opportunities at the Gordon Center facility for single Black residents who identify as women. This is not possible to carry out under current privacy, discrimination, and equal opportunity laws. Adult Shelter Connect, the emergency shelter servicing organization cannot verify or "check" race over the phone. If a white womxn calls in for shelter, she cannot be denied. This shelter will be open to all people identifying as women throughout Hennepin county.
The small scale, resource-rich environment that the Gordon Center will provide will allow these residents to seek shelter while staying connected to family and support networks in the local community. This Center will be in an entirely residential zoned neighborhood, unlike any other county emergency shelter in Minneapolis. It is not resource rich. This short-term, high-volume crisis shelter will be closed during the day, making its clients leave each morning to enter a residential neighborhood with no coffee shop, public library, grocery store, or social space within walking distance. There is not a place to buy food or water, or a public restroom, within walking distance. There is not a heated public building within walking distance. This does nothing to serve the critical clients' daily needs.
Hennepin County currently funds shelter for a variety of different populations of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. There are seldom more than a few dozen rooms/beds available at the end of each night, and many nights there is no excess capacity at all. Even with this shelter support, it is estimated there are still hundreds of unsheltered people in Hennepin County right now.
Hennepin County must provide residents with the shelter opportunities they need.
North Minneapolis is dramatically underserved when it comes to emergency shelter services compared to the needs of our Northside population. While over 30% of people who seek emergency shelter report a Northside ZIP code as their last place of residence, Hennepin County currently supports only 30 rooms/beds on the Northside. This is not true. North Minneapolis also hosts Ascension House for women which is operated by Haven Housing which receives funds from Hennepin County. There are 34 transitional housing rooms for women. The Northside also has Families Moving Forward which places people in emergency housing. For reference, Hennepin supports 715 rooms/beds in Downtown Minneapolis and 250 rooms/beds in South Minneapolis. There is 1 shelter south of Lake St. and it has 28 beds. This is the most under-used area for shelters in Minneapolis. Independent of the limitations imposed on shelters by the COVID-19 public health emergency, here are the current locations of shelters that receive Hennepin County support.
- North Minneapolis: 30 rooms/beds 50 rooms/108 beds
- St. Anne’s at 1803 Bryant Ave N
- 16 rooms for women-led Families up to 54 beds for women and children
- Avenues for Homeless Youth at 1708 Oak Park Ave N
- 14 beds for Youth (16-20) 20 beds
- Ascension Place: 1803 Bryant Ave N.
- 34 beds for women who have experienced homelessness
- St. Anne’s at 1803 Bryant Ave N
- Downtown Minneapolis: 715 beds 615 beds
- Salvation Army Harbor Light Center at 1010 Currie Ave
- 394 beds for Single adults
- Catholic Charities Higher Ground at 165 Glenwood Ave N
- 251 beds for Single adult men 171 free beds
- St. Stephen’s First Covenant at 810 S 7th St
- 50 beds for Adult partners
- Youthlink Opportunity Center at 41 12th St N
- 20 beds for Youth (Up to 24) 0 beds - Youthlink does not have beds, they outsource to other youth shelters.
- Salvation Army Harbor Light Center at 1010 Currie Ave
- South Minneapolis: 250 beds
- Simpson Housing at 2740 1st Ave S
- 64 beds for Single adults
- St. Stephen’s Clinton Ave at 2211 Clinton Ave
- 44 beds for Single adult men Who must be sober
- Our Savior’s at 2315 Chicago Ave
- 40 beds for Single adults (34 men, 6 women)
- The Bridge for Youth for 1111 W 22nd St
- 14 beds for Youth (10-17)
- Catholic Charities Hope Street at 1121 E 46th St
- 28 beds for Youth (18-21)
- AICDC at 1600 East 19th St
- 30 beds for Single adults, w/ culturally specific services
- MN Indian Women’s Resource Center at 2330 15th Ave S
- 30 beds for Single women, w/ culturally specific services
- Simpson Housing at 2740 1st Ave S
- Suburban Hennepin: 113 rooms/beds
- People Serving People at 5233 W 82nd St (Bloomington)
- 99 rooms for Families
- Avenues for Homeless Youth at 7210 76th Ave N (Brooklyn Park)
- 10 beds for Youth (16-20)
- 180 Degrees Hope House in Excelsior, MN
- 4 beds for Youth (14-19)
- People Serving People at 5233 W 82nd St (Bloomington)
North Minneapolis residents currently need more shelter opportunities.
WHY GORDON CENTER?For over a year, Commissioner Angela Conley, Chair of Health and Human Services, and Hennepin County staff have been working with Minneapolis Public Schools, City of Minneapolis, and other community partners to identify and evaluate potential locations for expanded shelter opportunities for Black residents who identify as women. After months of review and consideration, Hennepin County and Minneapolis Public School staff leaders recommended the Gordon Center, which aligns with the County’s shelter priorities for the following reasons:
- The Gordon Center is located less than ¼ mile from Northpoint Health & Wellness Center. Since Northpoint already hosts culturally specific health care and counseling opportunities for Black people who identify as women, providing a shelter opportunity nearby will make it easier for shelter guests to access those services and supports. This ensures these women will have access to treatment, job search, health care, and other wrap-around supports.Guests can stay for only less-than-30-day stays and are high-turnover. Immediate needs are critical as the ability to benefit from education or employment services are minimized in a short-term, high-turnover shelter where folks are not allowed sufficient time to stabilize or even make and keep appointments that are weeks out. If the county wished for women to be supported by access to Northpoint, they should allow for the shelter to be open during the day and allow for long-term stays.
- The Gordon Center is located about ¼ mile away from the Golden Valley Rd & Plymouth Rd stations for the Metro C-Line rapid bus transit line. Access to high-speed, reliable transit connections will allow shelter guests to retain access to employment, education, health care, services, family, and support networks. Will bus fare be provided? There are no immediate daily need services in the area, most importantly access to food, water, or heated public buildings are over a mile away. Guests can stay for only less-than-30-day stays and are high-turnover.
- The Gordon Center has been closed to the public since 1990 and has been left unused since 2005. To put that into some context, the Gordon Center has been closed to the public since before the Americans with Disabilities Act (1992) was even passed. The building requires tremendous renovation and rehabilitation work before it can be functional again.
- Despite being closed to the public, the Gordon Center still costs Minneapolis Public Schools tens of thousands of dollars each year to maintain. By selling the facility to Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Schools will save money every year that can be better spent providing an education to young people in Minneapolis.
- This is misleading. The Gordon Center was slated to be sold in 2014 for an early childhood education center on the Northside, an initiative supported by the community. The city then spent the money that was set aside for this renovation and conversion in other ways. This building has been asked and asked for by our BIPOC community. No one asked our BIPOC community about their hopes for the space. There are many other locations this shelter could go; we’re all hoping both can be accomplished by the city finding a better space and working with our community to address homelessness in a systemic way through a shelter and with the Gordon center used for programming, as it’s really built for. We ask for an RFP process and the year to support the fundraising needed to rehab the building.
- Hosting shelter at the Gordon Center will allow residents holistic, wrap-around support opportunities.
This homelessness crisis has only intensified due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, with record numbers in the last few months. On July 10 2020, my office published a Statement on Unsheltered Homelessness and Tent Encampments. It outlined short-, medium-, and long-term actions needed to address the growing crisis. A medium-term solution is providing even more accessible shelter opportunities for those experiencing homelessness.
Over the last few weeks, my office has received communications related to a specific shelter project, located at the Gordon Center in North Minneapolis. In today’s statement, I will:
- Share the values with which I am approaching shelter conversations
- Outline the shelter approach approved within Hennepin’s 2020 budget
- Provide background and timeline on the Gordon Center project
- Share upcoming actions and why I support the Gordon Center project
Shelters are intended to be a temporary refuge for individuals who are experiencing homelessness while we work to secure permanent housing for them. Hennepin County has statutory authority around shelter and intends to create, support, and staff shelters that meet a wide range of needs for individuals and families.
Currently, Black women from North Minneapolis who experience housing instability are forced to leave the Northside in order to secure shelter. When women are forced to seek shelter in a place that is inaccessible to their home community, they are faced with a difficult choice: stay in a harmful situation or risk being separated from family, jobs, medical services, and support networks. Black women need access to shelter in their home communities, and we have a severe shortage of such shelter in North Minneapolis right now. North Minneapolis currently has an emergency shelter for women (St. Anne’s) and a transitional shelter for women (Ascension Place).
Our community has an urgent need, and we have empty and vacant buildings. We must have a process for using these locations to house our unsheltered residents.
ON SHELTER PROJECTS APPROVED IN THE 2020 BUDGETHennepin County continues to advance projects through our 2020 budgeted shelter response. In 2019, Hennepin’s Housing Stability area of Human Services and Public Health presented nine recommendations related to shelter. These recommendations put forward a new vision of lowering barriers, improving outcomes, and increasing capacity. During the budget process, the Hennepin County Board approved funding for new shelter recommendations, including a small-scale stand-alone emergency shelter for people who identify as women.
Currently, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis are working together on three shelters that would create 110 new beds in Minneapolis — two in South Minneapolis and one on the Northside. I fully support these projects, and I am grateful that they were created in partnership with people with lived experience of homelessness as well as Single Adult Shelter Collaborative provider agencies. In particular, an advocacy group composed of people with the lived experience of homelessness, Street Voices of Change, influenced and shaped the recommendations.
ON THE GORDON CENTER PROJECTOne of the three shelters included in the 2020 Budget is planned to operate in the Gordon Center facility in North Minneapolis, located at 2220 16th Avenue North. This project will provide at least 30 beds for predominantly Black single adults who are experiencing homelessness and identify as women. This underrepresented the high volume capacity of the shelter which in the application states it will have 50 beds.
The Gordon Center is a two-story building that has approximately 22,000 square feet of space and has been closed to the public since 1990. It is currently owned by Minneapolis Public Schools. In 2019 while shelter recommendations were being formed, the Minneapolis Public School District and Hennepin County had preliminary discussions about the County acquiring the Gordon Center. In 2019, There was only one Shelter recommendation proposed by the City itself, and the city did not solicit other applications from the community for the use of this space, despite long-standing efforts to make this into a youth center.
Due to land use and other municipal approvals needed to proceed, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis were also in conversations around this project at the end of 2019. In November 2019, the Minneapolis City Council approved a Conditional Use Permit for former Gordon Center School to be used as an emergency shelter. This is incorrect. The permit was approved on January 9th 2020. The application was submitted in November. The community was not alerted in due time for the city council vote - public notices were not sent out 21 days prior to January 9th, making this application and vote invalid. This was done without the engagement or knowledge of the Northside community.
In December 2019, the Hennepin County Board approved a 2020 budget amendment of $1.1 million to fund five shelter recommendations, including a small-scale stand-alone emergency shelter for people identifying as women.
At the end of 2019, with partnership from Minneapolis Public Schools and the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County issued a competitive request for proposals (RFP) to solicit program proposals from experienced providers. The RFP review process included people with professional experience and people with lived experience of homelessness. The result of this process was the selection of The Salvation Army to operate the Gordon Center shelter and to provide onsite services, with a trauma-informed and client-centered model. As of 2019, these proposals were not submitted because it wasn't approved until January 2020. Simpson housing was going to direct the Center and they rescinded. Salvation Army, an notably institutional administrator, will now run the center. The Salvation Army has a negative history and fraught relationship with the LGBTQIA+ and especially Trans* community. Read more about that here. The lack of engagement of trans* women voices in this proposal process, despite trans* folks experiencing disproportionately high levels of homelessness, is telling and troubling for how the County has approached this process.
The Salvation Army has considerable experience managing a single adult shelter and specifically in serving guests who identify as women through their programs at the Harbor Light Center. Their proposal included an ongoing contribution to the annual operating costs in the sum of $261,813. The Hennepin County contract will fund $400,000 of the annual costs through our operating budget. Together, Hennepin County and Salvation Army’s contributions will comprise an annual operating budget of $661,813 for this shelter. This budget will sustain a well-resourced shelter operating up to 16 hours per day. This is woefully underfunded. St. Ann's Shelter, which houses 16 families and up to 50 people (majority children), has a budget of 850k. At this cost, for 50 beds, would be only $36 a day - this does not include utilities, salary for employees, maintenance, and supportive services. After those expenses it will be nearly zero sum for any woman staying.
Throughout 2020, I am grateful to the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County for continuing to advance this important project. Hennepin County’s Facility Services reviewed the property and estimates that the renovation of the property will cost approximately $4.9 million. On July 23 2020, the City of Minneapolis approved $4.5 million in COVID Emergency Solutions Grant funds for the construction of the project. In addition, the Pohlad Foundation has agreed to contribute $325,000 to the project, leaving a capital funds gap of approximately $75,000 which will be paid by Hennepin County.
Finally, the proximity of the Gordon Center to NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center and the C-Line bus rapid transit are incredibly important. Northpoint provides culturally specific services for Black residents; meaning that these women will have access to treatment, to job search, healthcare, and other wrap-around supports. And the proximity to the C-Line will provide high-speed, reliable transit connections to jobs, services, medical appointments, family, and more. This shelter is an entirely R1 zoned neighborhood. No other emergency shelter is located in such a location. The community cannot support these women during the day. There is no walkable food source or publicly open recreational facility such as a library. If the shelter allowed for children or longer stays, the nearby park would provide entertainment and community support. Currently the children's playground and park does not fit with this placement and further exposes this BIPOC and underserved communities children to substance use and adults with critical needs.
ON UPCOMING ACTIONS AND MY SUPPORTI’m supporting this shelter because I know there are far more than 30 women from the Northside who have experienced homelessness and/or survived sexual violence. We have worked directly with those who are experiencing homelessness or have experienced homelessness on the Northside, and they have asked for a women’s shelter close to their community and support networks. This project and the other shelters Hennepin County is working on are essential components of the many solutions being enacted in response to our growing crisis of people experiencing homelessness. The current plan includes approvals by Hennepin County, City of Minneapolis, and Minneapolis Public Schools, and the proposed timeline is:
- Design and construction documentation between August and October 2020
- Contractor procurement between November 2020 and January 2021
- Construction would begin in February 2021
- Shelter proposed opening in July of 2021
If you have further questions, comments, or concerns, please reach out to Constituent Services & Policy Aide Bill Emory at firstname.lastname@example.org