Stepping Stone plans to move to county building

by Peter Bodley
Managing Editor

Anoka County is about to take possession of a state-owned building on the former Anoka State Hospital campus, remodel it and turn a portion of it over to an emergency housing organization.

When the state’s new Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center campus opened, special state legislation passed in 2000 gave Anoka County ownership of the state buildings that once housed the Anoka State Hospital.

County of origin of single adult homeless clients of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing. To see a bigger image, click on the graph.. Graph: Stepping Stone website

Over the years Anoka County has created its Rum River Human Services Center campus in those buildings.

The state has continued to operate a chemical dependency treatment program in the Cronin Building on the old state hospital campus.

But that is about to change, according to County Administrator Jerry Soma.

The state will be moving the program to another building in the metro treatment center complex “imminently,” Soma said.

And when that occurs, the county will take ownership of the three-level building, he said.

According to Andrew Dykstra, the 27,819 square-foot Cronin Building was constructed in 1979 and includes residence rooms, group lounge areas, a large meeting room, a recreation/cafeteria room, conference/interview rooms and administrative offices.

The plan is to rent out the first floor to Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, a homeless shelter for single adults located in Anoka, for it to expand its bed space and programs, said Soma.

And by giving Stepping Stone room to expand, the shelter will be able to target homeless veterans, he said.

But before Stepping Stone moves in, the county has to make repairs and improvements to the building, Dykstra.

On the recommendation of its Finance and Capital Improvements Committee, the Anoka County Board authorized staff to negotiate the terms and conditions of a guaranteed energy-savings contract with Energy Service Group for the engineering, design and construction of needed improvements.

Time is of the essence, however.

The county is planning to use unspent federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars totaling $440,000 for the priority improvements needed at the Cronin Building, according to Dykstra.

Because these are CDBG allocations from prior years which have not been spent, the project has to be completed and the money has to be used up by May 1 to meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations, Dykstra said.

“We will be negotiating a performance-based contract,” he said.

“Energy Service Group will be working on this right away.”

Top priorities for work at the Cronin Building include a new chiller and condensing unit for the chilled water system, rebalance the air handling system and direct digital controls for energy management, Dykstra said.

In addition, the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) last month approved a 2012 CDBG package that includes a little over $200,000 for Cronin Building improvements, Soma said.

But that money won’t be available until July, he said.

According to Dykstra, those dollars will likely be applied to fixing elevator code violations as well as modifying and upgrading the elevators.

While Stepping Stone will be making use of the first-floor space, the county has not yet determined to what use it will put the rest of the Cronin Building, Soma said.

One possibility is a mental health crisis service, but at this point that is only in the planning stages and no funding has been identified, he said.

According to Lonni McCauley, chief operating officer of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, the hope is to move the Stepping Stone operation from its present Anoka location to the Cronin Building in July.

Right now, Stepping Stone has 20 beds available which are filled every night with a waiting list of 90, McCauley said.

“We will be allowed up to 60 beds in the Cronin Building,” she said.

“There will be a definite emphasis on homeless vets.”

There are 2,700 Minnesota National Guard members returning from deployment in the Middle East this year and “we will be there if needed,” McCauley said.

Demand for Stepping Stone’s services has been increasing, she said.

The shelter saw a 72 percent increase in the number of single adult homeless people it served from 2010 to 2011, McCauley said.

According to Executive Director Heather Ries in a presentation to the Stepping Stone annual meeting in January, the average stay is 39 days and the 2011 success rate (those who found permanent housing, employment and/or went on for more education) was 56 percent.

Through its Pathways five-step program, Stepping Stone has classes to support clients in their progression to permanent housing,

According to McCauley, Stepping Stone has been working with the county for the past three years to find for room for the shelter.

At the Cronin Building, Stepping Stone will pay the county rent as well as the utilities bill, McCauley said.

“Stepping Stone is the only homeless shelter for single adults in the county,” she said.

“We are so excited about the move and very much looking forward to it.”

Not only will it mean more beds, but also more room for the programs that Stepping Stone provides its clients as well as more space for volunteers to do their work, McCauley said.

“We have had to turn away volunteers because of lack of space,” she said.

As chief operating officer at Stepping Stone, McCauley said her role is “fund-raising and spending.”

Ries is the executive director, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the shelter.

She has 16 years of experience in the human services field and three years as a group home manager.

The mission of Stepping Stone is “to provide emergency housing and support for single adults experiencing homelessness as they strive toward self-sufficiency.”

Stepping Stone began serving homeless adults in 1994 under the management of Shiloh Ministries and in 2005, it received non-profit status with a board of directors appointed in 2007.

It provides 24-hour care and access every day of the week with 10 full- and part-time direct-care staff.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]