Community leaders in Rapid City hope a centralized campus for the city’s homeless population will both save money down the road and even reduce homelessness.
The proposed idea for a restoration and transformation center near downtown seeks to combine city, county, nonprofit and homeless services providers.
But the concept, which is still in the beginning stages, is drawing some skepticism.
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says addressing homelessness in Rapid City takes more than just feeding people. He says solving the issue is more complex, so he calls up an image.
“Imagine a man, starving, chained to a wall, unable to help himself," Allender says. "The current system of homeless services tends to feed that man, so that he doesn’t starve to death. The new system that I envision will seek to cut those chains.”
Those chains, Allender says, addiction, mental illness, lack of treatment, lack of self-esteem and barriers that cause a multi-generation mentality of homelessness.
That’s where the restoration and transformation centers come in.
They’re technically two separate entities that, when used as imagined, could help care for the city’s chronic homeless and help them get back on their feet, supporters say.
The idea for this campus is partly modeled after Haven For Hope in San Antonio. It’s a 22 acre campus just west of downtown San Antonio that opened in 2010. At capacity, around 1,700 homeless people live there.
“It is a collection of services on the campus,” Wilson says. “I think a good description is what I hear often people who live there say, and they say, ‘Everything I need is here.’”
That’s president of Haven For Hope, Kenny Wilson. He says those services include counseling, ID recovery, financial counseling, job readiness training, healthcare, dental care and activities for their children.
Wilson says the Haven For Hope campus cost about $101 million to build, it has an annual operating budget of $20 million.
Those seeking entry into Haven For Hope must be drug and alcohol free and can stay in an intake area until they’re sober.
They’re also required to work with a case manager toward a goal of a self-sufficient life and participate in activities that lead to that sufficiency like education and job training.
The scope is much smaller in Rapid City. According to the South Dakota Housing For The Homeless, in January of last year Rapid City had about 300 homeless people.
The restoration and transformation centers are designed for two different types of people, homeless and chronic, non-violent offenders.
The restoration center is envisioned for the latter and will operate on the county level. This center is part of a $1.75 million MacArthur Foundation grant to reduce the county’s jail population. The restoration center will give chronic, repeat low-level offenders… mostly drug and alcohol related… a bed to sober up in…
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom says the center is a more cost-effective way to handle this population as opposed to throwing them in jail for the night.
"In terms of housing, to put them in a safe bed as opposed to a jail and you look at the overall system cost. Somebody gets a criminal charge, goes into the system on a low level offense," Thom says. "You have state attorney time, public defender time, you have court time, you have law enforcement time. This is a way to, hopefully, maybe find a more effective way to deal with that particular segment of our population we deal with in our criminal justice system.”
Thom says the restoration center should be up and running full time by June of 2018.
It’s the idea by Rapid City Collective Impact to consolidate the rest of the homeless services in one centralized location, down the sidewalk from the restoration center. These services are proposed to be across the street from the Pennington County complex on Kansas City street, just east of downtown.
Both the restoration and transformation centers are proposed to operate on a 4-acre campus, in separate buildings surrounded by a chain link fence.
Charity Doyle is with Rapid City Collective Impact.
“We have wonderful providers in this community that are working hard to meet the needs of these people every single day," Doyle says. "But it’s spending money on these folks over and over and over again and not getting them anywhere. They’re facing the same barriers tomorrow and next year that they did the year before, so clearly we need to take a different approach.”
Doyle says this project is just in the beginning phase. The group did announce their desired location just next to the restoration center in November.
She says Rapid City Collective Impact is still searching for funding sources.. but says consolidating services into one location will result in an immediate savings for the community.
“When you think of where all that money is coming from, philanthropy, our faith based community—some of it comes from our governing bodies—but most of it is from the good hearts and kindness of our community," Doyle says. "We just don’t know how sustainable it is, we need to move the needle in the right direction. These people are crying for help, they want a system that can help them break these cycles for good, not just help them band-aid them for another week or two.”
This is something the city is on board with too. Mayor Allender has already suggested the city will commit $7 million to help purchase the transformation center building on campus.
Mayor Allender says the campus will essentially reduce foot traffic downtown. And fits in with future projects in the downtown area.
“It will take two points off of this pedestrian triangle we have going downtown," Allender says. "It is actually farther away from the school of mines than the current mission is, it will certainly be farther away than the new innovation center that will be coming up in the next year or so. It is really an improvement to the situation.”
The pedestrian triangle Allender mentions is one from the Cornerstone Rescue Mission to the Hope Center, and to memorial park along Rapid Creek.
One thing is for sure, community leaders want to prevent that triangle from going back to square one.