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Once-shady block in Mpls starts to shine

Added on Thursday, August 4, 2016

It used to be one of the shadiest blocks in downtown Minneapolis. But thanks to a stirring community effort, Currie Ave. between N. 10th and 11th streets is starting to shine.

The block is home to Minnesota’s largest homeless outreach center – The Salvation Army Harbor Light Shelter, located just southwest of Target Field. The six-story facility serves hundreds of free meals every day and sleeps between 400 and 500 people every night.

“A lot of our guests literally have nowhere else to go,” said Dominick Bouza, Harbor Light operations director. “It’s here or the streets.”

In early 2014, the challenges that come with serving the poorest of the poor came to a head: Ambulance visits from Hennepin County Medical Center averaged four times a day, and Minneapolis Fire Department visits, twice a day. Loiterers – some of them drug dealers – regularly congregated along Currie Ave. and nearby streets.

A truth had become clear: “Although The Salvation army stands ready to take the lead in serving the city’s homeless population, we cannot do it alone,” said Captain Katherine Clausell, Harbor Light’s lead administrator.

Team effort = less crime

Today, crime has dropped along Currie Ave. thanks to a community effort involving Minneapolis police, the Downtown Council, and numerous other local agencies. Through their partnership with The Salvation Army, security cameras were installed outside Harbor Light and along Currie Ave. In addition, Harbor Light enacted a strict 10 p.m. curfew for its shelter guests.

Dominic Bouza talks with police“The security cameras led to the arrest of a drug dealer and reduced crime on Currie Ave.,” said Bouza (pictured), noting that the street has become a veritable ghost town because “we have been diligent about not allowing people to loiter.”

Also, shelter guests are now allowed to stay inside Harbor Light until 9 a.m. instead of having to leave at 5:30 a.m. This new policy has led to fewer people loitering in the skyways and on the streets before public buildings open.

But, Clausell cautioned: “There is a misconception that people experiencing homelessness are the ones creating trouble. Often, these are very vulnerable people and they are the ones being victimized.”

Fewer ambulance visits

In the past year, fire and ambulance visits to Harbor Light have fallen significantly.

To curtail visits from emergency responders, HCMC dedicated two community paramedics to serve on-site at Harbor Light four days a week from 2 p.m. until midnight. The paramedics treat minor injuries and ailments, and provide other services that neutralize the unnecessary calling of an ambulance.

“If a resident fell and needs a few sutures, do they need an ambulance? Not really – we can drive them to urgent care,” said one of the paramedics, Dave Johnson, while speaking about the program at a medical conference (watch video).

Compared to 2014, ambulance visits to Harbor Light have dropped more than 15 percent, and fire department responses have been cut in half.

Big impact

On any given night, Harbor Light houses approximately half of Hennepin County’s homeless population.

Captain Katherine ClausellIn addition to meals and emergency shelter, the facility offers a bevy of other services for those experiencing homelessness. Here are just a few:

  • Acupuncture
  • Medical and dental screenings
  • Residential addiction recovery
  • Supportive housing for veterans
  • Referrals for permanent housing

Clausell is proud to offer these services.

“People come here seeking hope and help, and I want them to feel like they’ve found a place of sanctuary,” said Clausell (pictured), who began leading Harbor Light in June 2015.

Volunteers and donors are needed to support Harbor Light and other facilities operated by the Twin Cities Salvation Army, including eight food shelves, eighteen housing and shelter facilities, and nine Salvation Army stores.

Please donate now or sign up to volunteer.

The Salvation Army is an evangelical church that provides its services in the name of Jesus Christ, without discrimination.