Financial support keeps doors open for Minneapolis homeless opportunity center

Vincent Showers arrived in Minneapolis two months ago with no job, no place to live, and no place to eat.  Yet he’s found a helping hand at the corner of 17th and Chicago at the Mary F. Frey Opportunity Center.  It’s an address for people who have no address.

"They have the resources to go through," said Showers who now volunteers at the Frey Opportunity Center. "They help a lot."

The center is a resource hub run by Catholic Charities Twin Cities to help connect those who are homeless with vital services such as a mailbox or to seek permanent housing and employment.  They serve on average about 220 people a day.

"It’s a very comprehensive center," says Olufemi Ogan, Catholic Charities Twin Cities site manager at the Frey Center.  "You know, ranging from showers, and laundry which we call direct services.  We also offer lockers as well so people can store their belongings and people can also come to the center to check their mail."

Another reason they come is for food.  The Frey Center has a full-service kitchen where Bev Killebrew always has something hot from the oven.

"I come in here every day with a smile on my face," said Killebrew as she mixed the fresh salad to serve with shrimp scampi for lunch.  She’s been working in the kitchen for eleven years and claims to have only called in sick twice.  She’s worked here so long, many of the clients simply call her mom.  "I love to cook, you know.  I’ve got nice people."

Every Wednesday in the basement, clients can even get their feet tended to.  The nurses and volunteers from SoleCare for Souls help remove callouses and trim nails.

"If a person is homeless, you walk an average of five to ten miles every day," said Kathy Bissen, a registered nurse who founded SoleCare for Souls.  The homeless she said don’t have the means to care for their feet, which most times are their only means of transportation.  "If a person’s feet hurt, pretty soon their knees, their hips, the legs, their back hurts," Bissen said.

But all these services and coordination take a substantial financial commitment. Catholic Charities Twin Cities spends $1.2 million each year to operate the Mary F. Frey Opportunity Center.  This spring, CEO Michael Goar launched what he called 100 conversations in 100 days.  In an interview with FOX 9 in March, he said it was his way of reconnecting with those the agency served and partnered with.  But a large part of the conversations were aimed at finding public and private support to help keep the Frey Center open.

"In order for us to have a sustainable strategy, in order for us to provide those services to the most vulnerable community in this space, we need the state and other public sectors to partner with us," Goar said in our March interview.

His conversations worked.  Catholic Charities Twin Cities received funding commitments to help keep the Frey Center operating through next June.

"We were able to get some funding help from local government, from the state government, and then some really generous donors who all came together to make funding work for the next year," said Keith Kozerski, the program manager with Catholic Charities Twin Cities.   "This is about keeping the lights on, providing meals, providing showers, providing mail service, which sounds really basic to people, but it’s essential to people’s survival and connection to the community."

Vincent Showers would agree.  He’s taken advantage of the employment services the center provides to help him find a warehouse job.

"They got a resume class every other Tuesday," said Showers.  "And so you to participate, they help you build your resume, and also help and put in applications for jobs."

Back in the kitchen, the cook everyone calls mom is still chopping salad and slicing vegetables knowing that the new funding will keep her at the job she loves at least until the start of next summer.

"I’ll be here ‘til we close, hoping we don’t close, but I’ll be here every day," said Bev Killebrew.