Stepping Stone celebrates expansion of emergency shelter

A success story was celebrated Sunday by Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, the only adult homeless program in Anoka County.

Joan Bednarcyzk (right), president of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing’s Board of Director, thanks Karen Siewert (left) of the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Auxiliary Rose Group, which has donated funds to Stepping Stone’s Homeward Bound program.

Joan Bednarcyzk (right), president of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing’s Board of Director, thanks Karen Siewert (left) of the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Auxiliary Rose Group, which has donated funds to Stepping Stone’s Homeward Bound program.

An open house took place Nov. 11 at the program’s new facility, which is located in the Cronin Building on the former Anoka Metro Regional Center campus in Anoka, which is now Anoka County’s Rum River Human Service Center campus.

Stepping Stone occupies 8,000 square feet of the Cronin Building; its former home on Ferry Street totaled 2,000 square feet.

“This is an amazing, amazing day,” said Joan Bednarcyzk, president of Stepping Stone’s board of directors.

It was through her volunteer work as a chaplain at the AMRTC and quite by chance that Bednarcyzk became aware of the availabilty of the Cronin Building, she said.

“God has helped make this possible,” Bednarcyzk said.

Bednarcyzk praised the work of Executive Director Heather Ries, who launched Stepping Stone in 2005, and Chief Operating Officer Lonni McCauley for their work in making Stepping Stone’s new facility a reality.

And she recognized volunteers from all faith communities, the community at large and businesses for stepping up to support Stepping Stone and its programs.

“The community has been extremely supportive,” Bednarcyzk said.

“The community has come together to help. There have been no negative comments that I have heard.”

Until it moved Sept. 21, Stepping Stone Emergency Housing had 17 beds in a four-plex on Ferry Street in Anoka.

Now it will soon have 60 beds available through its move into the renovated Cronin Building, which formerly housed a state chemical dependency program. Stepping Stone is leasing space in the building from Anoka County.

The day of the open house 20 beds were occupied by homeless adults, but that number was scheduled to increase to 30 by the end of this week, according to McCauley, a former mayor of the city of Coon Rapids.

By the end of the year, all 60 beds will be available, once a second wing of the Cronin Building has been made ready, McCauley said.

However, the number of people on the waiting list is currently 80, she said.

A few beds will be kept open for emergency referrals from law enforcement agencies, Mercy Hospital and the state’s Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC), according to McCauley.

In the case of Mercy and AMRTC, there are times when people being discharged don’t have any place to go, McCauley said.

As well, Stepping Stone is focusing on providing shelter for homeless veterans – the percentage is 11 percent at this time, according to McCauley.

Since opening Sept. 21, things have gone “well,” despite a couple of glitches, McCauley said.

“At first we had Internet, but no phones, then we had phones but no Internet,” she said. “Now everything works.”

The expansion of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing’s program with more clients – 188 were served between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012 – and increased staff to serve them will mean a bigger budget in 2013, McCauley said.

The 2012 budget is $280,000; next year it will be $500,000, according to McCauley.

Funding comes from a variety of sources, including state group residential housing dollars, federal emergency shelter money, a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) allocation from Anoka County, foundations and donations from organizations and individuals, McCauley said.

“The Anoka County Community Action Program has made a very generous donation,” she said.

Under its agreement with Anoka County, Stepping Stone pays $1,200 a month in rent and about the same monthly figure in utility costs, McCauley said.

Clients who have jobs pay no more than 30 percent of their income for their housing at Stepping Stone, but those that are unemployed do not pay anything, she said.

But those that are unemployed are required to spend five hours a day, three times a week looking for jobs and housing, according to McCauley.

And all clients are expected to do daily chores and their own laundry.

Stepping Stone is more than a homeless shelter, McCauley said.

“We want them to become stabilized,” she said.

To do that, Stepping Stone offers more to its clients than a roof over their heads.

Its 90-day structured Pathways program provides Thrive Through Education classes, man-to-man and woman-to-woman mentoring and Homeward Bound transition.

The Homeward Bound program, which is funded by a donation from the AMRTC Auxiliary Rose Group, whose members include some former employees of the AMRTC, is designed for those on the brink of successfully leaving Stepping Stone, McCauley said.

“This program supports their independence, reunites them with their family and encourages integration into the community,” she said.

The average length of stay is 29 days and the cost per client per day is $44, according to figures provided by McCauley.

That includes providing daily, bagged lunches and a hot dinner.

But Stepping Stone is the recipient of food donations from local schools and local establishments such as Caribou Coffee, Papa Johns and Truffles and Tortes, as well as community members and groups, such as Rise and Mary T.

The open house recognized several businesses and organizations as well as many individuals for their help in moving Stepping Stone to its new home.

• Home Depot for donating materials and volunteers (43 of them).

• Twin Cities Media for technical expertise.

• Bill Carlson for donating woodworking and cabinetry work.

• Open Your Hearts Foundation for funding.

• Renovations Systems for cleaning all horizontal surfaces as well resurfacing showers/tubs.

• Sam Bredenkamp, Boy Scout Troop 415, for cleaning up the front courtyard and replacing decaying benches for his Eagle Scout project.

• AMRTC Auxiliary Rose Group for its donation to the Homeward Bound program.

The open house also thanked volunteers for their work in the past, present and future.

Volunteers work daily with the staff to assist clients living at Stepping Stone, according to McCauley.

Stepping Stone now has 18 full- and part-time employees with the average number of volunteers a month at 15, McCauley said.

According to Anoka County’s annual survey, there are close to 700 homeless adults in the county.

The number of homeless clients served and their ability to move successfully to independent living, jobs and schooling has dramatically increased since 2010, according to Ries.

“This move to the Cronin Building provides larger quarters to support the ever-growing number of homeless…” Ries stated in a press release.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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