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Three factors lead to Hope Center closing its doors

Officials with the Hope Center say they'll close their downtown space to guests on December 8.
Lee Strubinger
Officials with the Hope Center say they'll close their downtown space to guests on December 8.

After a dozen years of service, a Rapid City daytime mission center will stop serving homeless people.

The Hope Center will close its doors after it was denied a permit to move to a larger facility.

Hope Center officials said they serve anywhere from 200 to 300 people a day. The mission offers people a mailing address, access to a phone, storage, laundry and food. It’s also a space for people to socialize and network during the day.

“I don’t know where people are going to go. I hate saying that. But that’s the reality,” said Melanie Timm, the Hope Center's executive director. “I don’t know where people are going to go. No one does exactly what we do.”

Timm said several factors are prompting the shutdown. The rent more than doubled, for a lease that would only last one more year. And then, the Rapid City Common Council denied a permit to move to a larger facility the nonprofit had already purchased.

“It put us in a financial bind. When the information went out to the public that the city did not grant our permit, our donations declined quite dramatically," Timm said.

And so, the Hope Center’s last day for services is Dec. 8.

Timm announced the closing at a recent morning devotions service. She said an elderly gentleman who is wheelchair bound responded to the news.

“The room was silent. He burst into tears and he said, ‘You mean our family is breaking up?’" Timm said. "I tried to assure him that we’d do everything that we could to stay connected to him.”

The number of daily guests increased significantly during the pandemic. The Hope Center’s downtown facility has a maximum occupancy of 62—well below the two to three hundred they serve daily.

"Without being able to be close to downtown—or near residential—that kind of limits where we can go.”

The nonprofit received a donation to purchase a facility in North Rapid more than a year ago.

Lorien Peterson, president of the Hope Center board said trying to find the right location for the mission is difficult.

“With the city council’s decision, they made it very clear we’re not appropriate for a neighborhood setting. So, that makes it hard to move anywhere there would be housing nearby," Peterson said. "We’ve also been told often we’re not desired to be in the downtown area. Without being able to be close to downtown—or near residential—that kind of limits where we can go.”

Most of the Hope Center’s guests spend their time close to downtown. Other resources are also located in that area.

Even if the Hope Center finds another space, Peterson said the permitting process would take over a year.

“So, no matter where we would go, we have to have the permit, which means we have to go back through that process. We have to work with the city, work with our architects, engineers and contractors if they’re willing to help with that to get the permit process done," Peterson said. "That’s going to cost more money, too, and more time.”

The Rapid City Planning and Zoning commission recommended issuing the mission a permit for its new facility earlier this year. However, council members voted overwhelmingly against it.

The rejected location for the Hope Center is in Council President John Roberts' ward. He was one of the eight votes to deny the permit for relocation.

Roberts said he heard overwhelming opposition to the proposed site.

“This was a very difficult decision, I believe, for everybody on the council," Roberts said.

Rapid City Mayor Jason Salamun only casts a vote in council action when there’s a tie. He said he’s disappointed the center is closing.

“I was generally in favor [of the Hope Center relocation]. Our police department wrote a letter of support for that move, but the council made a decision. I respect their decision. I could sit here and point fingers," Salamun said. "I just try to think this is a situation. This is reality. Where do we go from here. But I know that people are struggling. At the end of the day that’s what it’s about.”

This week, the city council and Pennington County Commission passed a resolution saying both governmental entities are committed to reducing homelessness in the community.

Salamun said it’s important to determine where to begin.

“The big thing for me is to assess where are we at right now. What’s working and what’s not working," Salamun added.

For now, that assessment will include one less physical space for those who need to go somewhere during the say.

Salamun says the next steps should include conversation with stakeholders to identify a community direction.

That assessment, for now, will not include a physical location for the Hope Center.

Melanie Timm said the organization will remain a nonprofit as it figures out a new plan and vision—with a desire to provide services again.

“It’s pretty devastating for some of our guests to think about not being able to come here Monday through Friday,” Timm said. “Multiple times we’ve had various people say the worst part of the day is four o’clock in the afternoon when we close.”

After the mission closes in early December, leaders hope to sell the building that was to be its new home.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.