Tainted Love

Plans to open a West Bank homeless shelter hit another snag

Last fall Mary Gallini believed that, before the first snowflake hit the ground, there would be 25 new beds for homeless men in the Seven Corners neighborhood of Minneapolis. She would have been better off putting her faith in a September snow squall.

At the time, Love Power Music and Miracles Ministries, a charismatic Christian parish, was clearing space to provide shelter in a building it shares with the Children's Gospel Mission at the corner of Washington Avenue and Interstate 35W. Those in support of the effort had raised $200,000 in funding through Hennepin County, the United Way, and the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning. Gallini, who works for St. Stephen's Shelter, a longtime nonprofit provider of services to the homeless, had begun meeting with neighbors in the area to explain the plan and seek their blessing.

A year later the shelter has yet to open, sidetracked by bureaucratic bungling, funding problems, and entrenched neighborhood opposition. "We need these beds, and we needed them last winter," Gallini insists. "That's 25 more people who had to sleep outside in a horrible winter, and who knows what this winter is going to be like?"

Gimme shelter: Mary Gallini is embroiled in a legal battle with West Bank neighbors and businesses
Tony Nelson
Gimme shelter: Mary Gallini is embroiled in a legal battle with West Bank neighbors and businesses

Last month a group of five local business owners and two neighborhood residents filed suit in Hennepin County District Court against shelter supporters, including Gallini, and the City of Minneapolis. The lawsuit alleges that Gallini and other shelter proponents willfully misrepresented how the program would operate, in order to hoodwink residents. It also charges that the City of Minneapolis Planning Commission erred in granting a conditional use permit to allow the shelter to operate. The plaintiffs are seeking to prevent the shelter from opening, and are requesting $50,000 in compensatory damages. "Their perception, whether real or imagined, is that the restaurants and theaters and character of the area would be adversely impacted," says the group's attorney, Gary Wood.

Kevin Reuther, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis who is representing Gallini, Love Power, and other organizations named in the suit (including Simpson Housing Service and St. Stephen's Shelter), worries that the case will have a chilling effect. "We're concerned that this not set a precedent for neighborhood groups or property owners to think that they can bring anyone and everyone to court who wants to [build] a shelter," he says. "The church has the right to put a shelter there." Reuther believes the case is frivolous, and he has filed a motion asking for monetary sanctions against the plaintiffs if they refuse to drop it. The City of Minneapolis has filed a separate response denying any wrongdoing. Assistant City Attorney Peter Ginder says that the city will eventually move to have the case dismissed.

In the meantime the Love Power shelter sits empty--and people are sleeping in the streets. Last year the City/County Task Force on Homelessness determined that 100 more beds per night were needed for homeless single adults in Hennepin County. Currently there are some 340 beds and another 350 "secure waiting" spots, which provide mattresses, but few amenities, for a night's stay. St. Stephen's Shelter, one of a handful of places that admit people on a daily basis, turns away an average of 30 people per night.

To sell the project to area residents last fall, Gallini emphasized that the Love Power facility would serve as a springboard into permanent housing. The shelter would run a pilot program for sober, employed, single men committed to a 30-day stay and willing to save 40 percent of their income. What Gallini did not emphasize at the community meetings was that if there were not enough people participating in the pilot program, the remaining beds would be doled out in a lottery at St. Stephen's Shelter.

"I was extremely disappointed when I heard that there would be a lottery system," says Doreen Bower, a board member of the West Bank Citizens Coalition, which voted not to oppose the project last fall. "I felt that we had been manipulated."

Gallini says she may not have dwelled on the lottery system, but she points out that the dispersal of unused beds was addressed in a written description of the plan that was handed out at all the meetings: "We focused on the pilot because that's our hope, that it's going to be filled with people from the pilot program. But we don't always necessarily have 25 people."

Dan Prozinski, a Seven Corners resident who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, insists that a potential lack of need presents a problem. "If there's hundreds of guys out there that are homeless and she's not confident that she can get 25 people to participate in her program, what does that say?" he asks rhetorically.

The city has been roped into the lawsuit because it green-lighted the Love Power project by issuing a conditional-use permit. By law churches are allowed to operate such programs without government interference. The lawsuit alleges, however, that the shelter would be the primary function of the building and therefore does not qualify. The plaintiffs also assert that Love Power is simply starting the program to make money.

Avis Laas, a Love Power parishioner who has spearheaded the shelter effort, resents the charge. She says that Love Power and Children's Gospel Mission would receive only $500 each per month in rent to house the shelter. "If you would see our pastor's house, or any of our houses, nobody's doing anything for money," she argues.

Laas says that church members are not dispirited by the long delay and remain confident that the shelter will eventually open its doors. "We still believe that God told us to do this and he's going to bring it about," she says.

 
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JThomas
JThomas

This was a proposal to create a men's shelter in the same small facility that was already running programs for inner city children. Who thought these two groups would be compatible together? What politicians supported this proposal?  The Children's Gospel Mission owned the building and had been working with underprivileged city kids for 100 years at this site.  

 

The Children's Gospel Mission Board had to be convinced to sign a long lease with St Stephen's who would then run the men's shelter as a tenant of the Children's Mission.  So, shelter advocates wrote a proposal that stated all men staying at the shelter would be part of a higher expectation program requiring sobriety, employment, and savings*** and that all men would be "hand picked by staff." AFTER receiving the cautious approval of the Mission Board and the local community, the proposal was rewritten by shelter staff.  The final documents filed with the city now described the project as "an extension of the shelter at St. Stephen’s"  with most beds given away by a nightly lottery.  Surprised by the revelation of this lottery the Mission Board felt they'd been misled and in the end voted to turn down the proposal.

 

*** The author of this City Pages article, Paul Demko, also reported these same program requirements; "Residents would be required to sign up for at least a 30-day stay at Love Power Church, hold down a job, save 40 percent of their earnings toward permanent housing, and attend classes focusing on life skills such as personal finance and nutrition."  City Pages "Zoned Out" November 2000.

 

JThomas
JThomas

I'd like to clarify this point; the Children's Gospel Mission Board was told that their children's programs could coexist in the same facility with homeless men because the men would be carefully screened by shelter staff.  Chemical dependency and mental health issues in the male homeless population should be a serious consideration as to where these shelters are located.  A random nightly lottery for beds would not have provided screening of the men staying in the Children's Mission building.

 
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