Minneapolis’ historic Elliot Park neighborhood has seen a lot of change in recent years, transformed through the coming of US Bank Stadium, the KA Block and other development in the emergence of trend-setting East Town. Standing steadfastly through it all is the nonprofit House of Charity (HOC), a modest presence that belies the important, life-changing work taking place within its walls. Now big changes are in the making for this institution, as it continues to grow and change to address the needs of our community.
Low Profile, High Impact
Q. House of Charity maintains such a low profile, even many people who work at KA and visit our neighborhood regularly would be amazed to hear about what you do, and your impact. Share with us some facts on the services HOC provides.
PAUL VERRETTE, GIFT OFFICER, HOUSE OF CHARITY: House of Charity is a busy place and we are proud of the services we provide for people experiencing homelessness.
During the past year, House of Charity accomplished the following:
- Free Public Meals at the Food Centre– 123,828 meals were served by 2,855 volunteers.
- Supportive Housing – 415 people received housing with services at the 510 building and in apartments around the city.
- Day by Day Program – 124 unduplicated individuals received treatment from House of Charity’s Day by Day program. 16% of these individuals completed Phase 1 of our program and 11% completed the whole 3 Phase program that includes aftercare.
Q. How is HOC distinct from similar service organizations?
PAUL VERRETTE: The Food Centre is Minneapolis’s only large scale free lunch program open 365 days a year. In some of client surveys, up to 40 percent of the Food Centre guests tell us that it is the only complete meal they get during the day. The volunteers and staff of the Food Centre provide a service that I can’t imagine Minneapolis being without.
Also, while many nonprofits have access to substance abuse and mental health treatment though referrals, House of Charity has its own on-site program, Day by Day. The professionals of Day by Day are qualified addiction and behavioral health professionals who bring their commitment and experience to help our clients every day. Many people experiencing homelessness suffer from untreated substance abuse disorders. Programs like Day by Day give the care they need to improve their lives and end their homelessness definitively.
House of Charity Funding
Q. How is all this activity funded?
PAUL VERRETTE: The community meals at the Food Centre are supported entirely by individuals – a combination of volunteers, donations, and donated or subsidized food. In expense terms, 14 percent of all of House of Charity’s revenue is from donations, and 86 percent is provided by revenue earned through contracts and fees for housing, substance abuse services, and case management.
Q. How has the growth of our Elliot Park neighborhood and East Town district influenced the direction of HOC or otherwise had an impact on your organization?
PAUL VERRETTE: The rapid development of Elliot Park and East Town have been very positive for House of Charity. The return of Kraus- Anderson’s employees and more employers and residents than ever before will help us to get the volunteers and donations we need to serve our clients. The new Elliot Park Hotel on the KA Block has already stepped up to partner with us and we look forward to working with them. The addition of The Commons Park has been great for our clients and staff. We have groups that meet there and clients that enjoy the free activities. The hardest part has been the inconveniences caused by construction. Once the Thrivent projects and Eighth Street are finished, we will be happy to be in a newly developed and busy neighborhood.
A New Home for the Homeless: Park7
Q. Talk about plans for the new housing facility.
PAUL VERRETTE: We plan to break ground on Park7 in November 2018. The construction should take about a year. In 2019 the doors will open to a three story building with 61 studio apartments for people experiencing long term homelessness. All the residents will receive case management services and access to other House of Charity services including our outpatient substance abuse disorder program and the Food Centre. The facility helps to meet the need for housing paired with services needed by people experiencing long term homelessness. Our funding efforts have been greatly assisted by a generous grant from our neighbors at Thrivent.
Currently there are about 450 people sleeping outside or in unsafe conditions in Minneapolis and another 843 single adults in shelters every night. More than half of the people sleeping outside are long term homeless and suffering the effects of the trauma related to homelessness and untreated addiction and mental illnesses. This facility will bring welcome safety, stability, and care for a very vulnerable group of people.
Brother DePaul’s Vision
Q. House of Charity was established by Brother DePaul in the early 1950s. What has changed over the years? What’s stayed the same?
PAUL VERRETTE: We know a lot about Brother de Paul’s original vision for House of Charity from firsthand accounts and his biography Twenty-five cents and God by Mary McKenna. Brother De Paul was born Thomas Kondrak and lived in NE Minneapolis. He became interested in efforts to help the poor living in the Gateway neighborhood near his high school, DeLaSalle on Nicollet Island. His call to help the poor was a central part of his Catholic faith and he revered St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul.
When he found a building available on Nicollet Island, he talked a landlord in to giving it to him despite having no money or the ability to get a loan. That building was used to feed the poor and also to provide emergency housing. The biggest difference between the original House of Charity and today is that today’s House of Charity is a non-sectarian nonprofit with a professional staff. We remain dedicated to meeting immediate needs but have evolved to also provide more services designed to help people end their homelessness.
Also, the emphasis on recovery services in not entirely new. Brother de Paul began this shift to meeting long-term needs when he added early Alcoholics Anonymous style groups. He even attended a training program at Yale centered on the new science of alcoholism. I like to think that the way we do our work may have changed, we express our motivation differently, but that we seek the same results as we did the first day that we opened.
Some Myths, Busted
Q. Share with us a couple of the biggest myths about the people served by organizations like House of Charity.
PAUL VERRETTE: Here are some of the most prevalent and damaging myths about homelessness we see:
- Homeless is a choice and ending it is a simple act of will. Homelessness is more often imposed on people by a variety of factors such poverty, racism, and a lack of affordable housing and falling wages. The trauma of homelessness is something that no one would willingly choose.
- Addiction is solely the result of bad choices and not a disorder. Substance abuse disorder is an established chronic illness and reducing addiction to a moral choice heaps shame and guilt upon those who suffer from it. Untreated addiction among people experiencing homelessness can seem more prevalent because the perceived signs of it are more visible among people who are unsheltered and forced to live their life in the public eye. Recovering from addiction without the safety of housing is extremely difficult.
- Mental illnesses are uncommon and a rare occurrence. The stigma attached to mental illness has led to a lack of good mental health care for everyone, but especially for those experiencing homelessness. Without housing, it is very hard to get the mental health care needed to overcome common conditions like depression and anxiety.
Kraus-Anderson a Good Neighbor
Q. What can you tell us about Kraus-Anderson’s long involvement with House of Charity?
PAUL VERRETTE: Kraus-Anderson has supported House of Charity for as long as our records go back. Owen Beckwith worked with Brother DePaul for many years. He was on the board in the early 1970s possibly earlier. He helped House of Charity while we were in North Minneapolis and, when we moved into the Field Hotel at 510 South Eighth Street in 1976. Kraus-Anderson helped renovate the Field Hotel to suit House of Charity’s needs. He helped us during a crucial time.
Bruce Engelsma served on our board and is now on our Capital Campaign Cabinet. Chad Rempe is currently on our board. Other past members include Jamie Engelsma and John Rogoz. We have had Food Centre volunteers from Kraus-Anderson for many years.
Kraus-Anderson employees have done many other generous things for our clients such as holiday giving trees and the donation of Bombas Socks from the headquarters grand opening. We have also been fortunate to have some board meetings in the new facility. KA has been very supportive and generous for many years.
Q. You tackle some of life’s most devastating challenges within your walls. How do you measure success at HOC? How do you stay motivated when reality falls short of goals?
PAUL VERRETTE: We know we are successful when the Food Centre is meeting the urgent need for hot nutritious food for people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty. We know we are successful in our permanent support housing programs when our clients are able to retain their housing by helping them to meet their needs for mental and physical healthcare. We also look to see that our clients are able to meet the highest level of independence possible for their level of disability by obtaining job training services and access to education.
The Affordable Housing Challenge
We face many challenges in our work. One of the most difficult problems we have is the lack of affordable housing. The most common subsidy available to people who are homeless and disabled pays $874 per month for rent. It can take up to six months to find a good apartment in a good location for that rent. In addition, many current clients have had their rents raised causing us to have to find new housing for currently housed clients. Some of our most frustrating challenges are systemic such as a lack of treatment facilities for people with the most severe addiction disorders and mental illnesses. We do what we can in the current system while advocating for better housing services with our partners such as the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health.
The Path to Recovery
We are also challenged by the nature of addiction and mental illness. The path to recovery is rarely simple and does not follow a straight trajectory. We know that people suffering from addiction are very likely to relapse. People often move in and out of homelessness a few times before getting the right housing and services at the right time. The trauma and health challenges faced by our clients are considerable and the resources to help them are limited. This can be very difficult for our employees who want the best for our clients. Our employees are with our clients in times of crisis and this can be exhausting for them. We have been working to build a stronger culture of self-care among our employees and making sure that they get the training they need to best care for their clients and themselves.
Q. What more can people do to help?
PAUL VERRETTE: Donations of your money and time are welcome and put to good use!
You can donate to House of Charity online here: https://www.houseofcharity.org/donate. Please consider a monthly donation. You can easily set up an automatic donation on our site. This allows you to donate more and is easier on your cash flow at the end of the year!
In addition, the Food Centre is a very satisfying and convenient volunteering opportunity! You can go here to sign up and learn more: https://www.houseofcharity.org/volunteer
One Volunteer’s Story
One of HOC’s longest serving volunteers, Board Member Emeritus, and Chair of our Capital Campaign Mark Peterson came to House of Charity because of Kraus Anderson. He shares his story below:
MARK PETERSON: My first visit to House of Charity was in 1990 through an invitation from Bruce Engelsma (CEO, Kraus-Anderson Companies). It included a tour of the Food Centre and the main housing facility with Bruce and Robin Brooks, the HOC Executive Director at that time.
I remember leaving that day touched by the experience and amazed that a quiet little organization with a handful of dedicated staff and volunteers could provide so much for so many people.
Like many other volunteers, my service began with serving at the Food Centre. Through my work at the Food Centre I have had a chance to come to know many of the people served by HOC at the Food Centre or in the transitional housing program, and men & women in the Day by Day Program.
I was fortunate to serve with many great volunteers from IBM, and other companies like Thrivent, IBM and Ameriprise. The people and businesses of downtown Minneapolis have done so much to help the people served by House of Charity.
I have always appreciated the ‘roll up your sleeves’ teamwork between volunteers, our partners in the community, staff and board members. The renovation project of the 510 building and the Food Centre Computer Lab are great examples of the power of teamwork. So many people working together to help others!