County approves lease for homeless shelter

The Anoka County Board July 24 approved a lease agreement for the only homeless shelter in Anoka County to move into the Cronin Building which the county has purchased from the state of Minnesota.

Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, currently operating in Anoka, plans to move into the Cronin Building, which is located in Anoka, Sept. 1, expanding its capacity from the present 20 to 60.

Under the lease, Stepping Stone will occupy the first floor of the building as well as a portion of lower level for access to the dining area, according to Don Ilse, county division manager for human services.

Stepping Stone will pay the county $1,250 a month in rent plus $1,000 per month for utilities.

The lease agreement runs through Dec. 31, then will automatically renew for successive one-year terms for three years unless terminated.

“Demand for services for homeless adults remains very high and Stepping Stone has a very long waiting list,” Ilse wrote in a memo to the county’s Human Services Committee, which recommended approval of the lease agreement to the county board.

Anoka County supports Stepping Stone’s goal of expanding its capacity with an emphasis on programming for veterans, he wrote.

“Anoka County is charged with the responsibility to provide support to adults experiencing homelessness,” Ilse said in his memo.

“Executing this lease would appear to further those goals, including working specifically with veterans experiencing homelessness.”

It has taken a long time to get to this point and this has been long-awaited, according to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, who chairs the Human Services Committee.

Stepping Stone’s expansion is very much needed, especially for veterans, Sivarajah said.

The Stepping Stone board of directors began looking for a place to expand its homeless program in Anoka County four years ago, according to Lonni McCauley, Stepping Stone chief operating officer.

“We appreciate the work of county staff and the support of the county board,” McCauley said.

Stepping Stone has a dedicated group of volunteers, who are people that are very active and responsible in the community, said County Commissioner Dan Erhart.

“Stepping Stone does a very good job serving the community,” he said.

This is a very good use for the building because Stepping Stone offers an important service to the community, according to County Commissioner Jim Kordiak.

Prior to the Sept. 1 move throughout the month of August, Stepping Stone will be focused on bringing the new facility up to live-in conditions.

According to McCauley, a group of volunteers will be painting its new quarters at the Cronin Building next week.

Volunteers will be doing prep work Aug. 4 and 6 and the painting Aug. 7, McCauley said.

“Home Depot has been very generous and donated $10,000 plus 80 gallons of paint and a large group of people who will paint on Aug. 7,” she said.

The Cronin Building is located on the former Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center campus at what is now the county’s Rum River Human Service Center campus after the state declared the property surplus and the county purchased the buildings from the state, the last one being this facility.

The second floor of the building will be used by the county, but for what has not yet been determined, according to County Administrator Jerry Soma.

Stepping Stone began serving homeless adults in 1994 and in 2005 received non-profit status with a board of directors appointed in 2007.

Today, Stepping Stone has an annual budget in excess of $300,000, with nearly half of the funding coming from local churches, foundations, individuals and community groups.

Anoka County has nearly 700 homeless adults, according to the county’s annual survey.

SSEH served 190 of these 700 homeless adults in 2011. The number of homeless clients served and their ability to move successfully to independent living, jobs and schooling has dramatically increased since 2010, said Heather Ries, Stepping Stone executive director, in a press release.

“This move to the Cronin Building will provide larger quarters to support the ever-growing number of homeless that, through family dysfunction, foreclosure, job loss and return from military duty overseas, turn to SSEH for a warm and safe place to live and earn independence once more,” she said.

Residents of the shelter are assigned a 90-day program that teaches life skills through education and one-on-one mentoring, along with post-graduate support after leaving the shelter, Ries said.

“Of those who complete the program, 56 percent go on to find independent living, get jobs and/or go back to college,” she said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]