Plans to open an emergency women’s shelter in a vacant north Minneapolis building have been scrapped after an outcry from neighbors.
Hennepin County’s plan for the facility would have converted the vacant Gordon Center building in the Willard-Hay neighborhood into a 50-bed Salvation Army shelter for Black single women. It was among a total of three proposed shelters the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County planned to open as tent encampments swelled in city parks this summer.
But residents who opposed the project said that there are already three homeless shelters within a mile from the Gordon Center, located at 2220 N. 16th Av. The shelter would have been in a residential neighborhood, without food or essentials in walking distance for the women staying at the shelter. Additionally, the shelter would have been next to one of the only playgrounds in the neighborhood where young children can play.
Hennepin County District 2 Commissioner Irene Fernando, who was behind the plans for the shelter, posted a statement to her website on Wednesday announcing that the project’s application to the Minneapolis Planning Commission had been withdrawn.
That decision was made when it became clear the shelter would be unable to open by the proposed goal of July 2021. To meet that timeline, the Minneapolis school board would have needed to vote on a purchase agreement by the end of August, said Fernando, who represents the area.
In her statement, Fernando noted the need on the North Side that led to the proposal for the Gordon Center site. Nearly 30% of people in Minneapolis seeking emergency shelter list north Minneapolis ZIP codes as their last residence, according to Hennepin County.
KerryJo Felder, a Minneapolis school board member, helped collect more than 700 signatures from North Side neighbors in opposition to the project.
“I’m really proud of the way that the community rallied around this and realized that we had a crisis going on,” Felder said.
The shelter would have been just two blocks from Pastor Victor Armando Martinez’s home. He worried about the site’s proximity to the playground. In the morning, the women staying in the overnight shelter would likely linger while children play, Armando Martinez said.
“Everyone on the block is not for that,” he said.
Fernando cited the Gordon Center’s proximity to the Metro C Line rapid bus and the Northpoint Health and Wellness Center as positive points of the proposed shelter. She believes the opposition to be site specific, and not an opposition to a shelter on the North Side, the commissioner’s staff said in an e-mail.
Felder and other neighbors hope the Gordon Center can become a youth center, a community space she said the North Side desperately needs.
“We need to let the community run the program, which is why we were fighting so hard for this specific youth center for our community children,” Felder said.
Hennepin County plans to secure another site for the women’s emergency shelter, according to Fernando’s staff. Plans for two other proposed shelters would put beds in Elliot Park and at the intersection of Cedar and Franklin.
Felder wants the county to work with the community early on about the shelter’s eventual placement.
“A lot of times they do things and it’s just done, and then North Siders have to suffer,” Felder said. “We should have a say because they wouldn’t do it like this in any other part of the city, and they need to stop taking advantage of north Minneapolis.”
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation.