It’s not easy finding work when a criminal record shadows your every job application. And it’s near impossible showing up every morning when you spend every night underneath a bridge.
Great River Landing, an apartment building just for felons, is expected to replace a parking lot at 813 N. Fifth Street in Minneapolis’ North Loop. It will have single rooms for 72 adults, mainly African American men who are chronically incarcerated, unemployed, and homeless. Proximity to Target Field will provide easy transportation. Around-the-clock staff will deliver mandatory, on-site life coaching. A playground will be built for visiting children and grandchildren.
Better Futures Minnesota, an ex-offender re-entry organization, and Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative have secured $14 million worth of private and public funds to act on their belief that injecting basic comforts into lives of chaos can prevent the repeat incarceration of men who would much rather work.
Great River Landing will be the first of its kind in Minneapolis. But elsewhere in the country, similar housing projects have shown that this sort of thing actually works to reduce crime and save tax dollars otherwise meant for prisons.
In New York, housing support for felons saved more than $8,000 per person in jail and shelter costs over one year. Crisis medical costs – usually meaning emergency psychiatric commitment – were reduced by $7,000 per person, according to Columbia University’s School of Public Policy.
The San Diego County health department found that when homeless people with drug addictions and mental illness were given stable homes, they had a 70 percent greater chance of recovery and 17 percent less risk for going back to jail.
The challenge of securing ongoing funds for counseling and job training services still looms over Great River Landing. Better Futures will need $1 million every year, and to date has only collected $700,000.
The organizers are looking to the legislature to create dedicated funding by passing the Unlocking Opportunities bill, which would put aside $14 million for re-entry programs. The legislation would provide up to $19,000 annually per home, compared to the $41,000 the state currently spends to keep someone in prison.
The bill was introduced last year by DFL lawmakers Ray Dehn (Minneapolis), Sheldon Johnson (St. Paul) and Phyllis Kahn (Minneapolis). It did not move beyond the Health and Human Services Reform committee, which is overseen by Republicans Tara Mack (Apple Valley), who is not seeking re-election, and Roz Peterson (Lakeville).