Actual construction of the three-story, 26,000-square-foot Center for Changing Lives on the 1400 block of East Superior Street should begin soon after, said Jodi Harpstead, CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, the agency that is behind it.
The project, which will house all of the agency’s youth services at the former site of the Kolar Buick Toyota dealership, is part of an ambitious strategy to end youth homelessness in Duluth.
“We’re pouring everything we know how to do for youth into Duluth with the hopes that we can end homelessness for youth there — of course in cooperation with the whole community,” Harpstead said.
Although the project long has been in the works and a groundbreaking for this spring envisioned, the groundbreaking date was just set on Monday, Harpstead said. It will take place at 2 p.m., immediately following LSS’s annual youth benefit luncheon.
It’s expected to open its doors during the first part of 2017.
“The building contractor, Johnson Wilson, had always said it’s a 10-month project,” she said.
The project got a boost in October when the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency approved $4.2 million in bonding. At the time, LSS announced that it was within $1.5 million of the $9.5 million needed to complete it.
As of Monday, the fundraising campaign had just $600,000 to go, Harpstead said.
The building will house 10 affordable apartments on the second floor and 10 transitional bedrooms on the third floor. It will replace LSS’s Renaissance project, which has six bedrooms in downtown Duluth. The first floor will house youth services that now are spread out across several sites.
Minneapolis has had a larger Center for Changing Lives since 2008, but it serves families.
Ending youth homelessness in Duluth could seem to be a daunting task. St. Paul-based Wilder Research, in its 2012 homelessness survey, reported 120 homeless young people in Duluth. Wilder, which conducts the survey every three years, announced on Monday its overall findings from its Oct. 22, 2015, survey. It showed a 9 percent drop in homelessness in Minnesota, from 10,214 in 2012 to 9,312 last year.
More specific data, including youth homelessness in Duluth, likely won’t be available until this summer, Harpstead said.
But Duluth’s size makes it an ideal place for an all-out effort against youth homelessness, she said. It’s small enough so that homeless youth who might get lost in bigger cities are known, she said, but it’s big enough to have the resources to take on the problem.
Focus group meetings will begin this week on another measure intended to reduce youth homelessness, Harpstead said. Using a $50,000 grant from the Duluth Superior Community Foundation, the focus groups will consider how to establish community host homes, in which displaced youth would stay in private homes while receiving services from LSS.
Safe Place, another program initiated in Duluth, will be expanded to the seven other communities LSS serves in Minnesota, Harpstead said. The Safe Places — such as libraries, fire stations, churches, businesses and even buses — are marked with yellow signs that look like road signs, with the words Safe Place on them. Youth in trouble know these are safe places they can turn to for help.
That’s an example, Harpstead said, of how LSS takes what it learns in Duluth and applies it elsewhere in the state.
The Lutheran Social Service benefit luncheon for youth experiencing homelessness will take place from noon to 1 p.m. at the Greysolon Ballroom, 231 E. Superior St. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m.
The program will be followed by groundbreaking for the Center for Changing Lives in the 1400 block of East Superior Street at 2 p.m.