Bloomington, Hopkins could join Brooklyn Center as suburban locations
BY KATY ZILLMER
The first day Hennepin County’s regional office at the
Northwest Family Service Center opened in Brooklyn Center, 425 clients walked through the door.
Employees expected a number closer to 200 during the Oct. 1 opening, but were able to handle the increased demand, said Pat Avery, the human services area manager assigned to the northwest region of Hennepin County.
Since the opening the client population has averaged at about 300 people per day, which is still more than expected.
But the numbers are proof that Hennepin County residents, who access the services, including food and childcare support and health care programs, needed a location closer to home.
“We’re moving our services into the community,” Avery said. “The idea is to be more convenient for the client.”
The Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department in the Brooklyn Center building is one of six regional sites planned to open through 2014, Avery said.
That year the Century Plaza in downtown Minneapolis will likely close. The building has fit the model to offer many services in one space, but has moved away from being a site accessible to clients based on where they live.
“We looked at the fact that we knew in this region in particular, the demographics were looking like north Minneapolis and its very dense need,” said Sharlene Shelton, an area manager for Hennepin County in regional development and community engagement.
Almost 68 percent of all residents in north Minneapolis utilize offerings from the human services and public health departments, Shelton said.
And, on average, about 25 percent of the departments’ clients live in the northwest region of Hennepin County, she said.
Shelton’s role, after assisting with the design and development of the Brooklyn Center regional office, is to spend about three months there and then complete the planning of the five other locations in Hennepin County.
The county plans to open another regional office by leasing space in the Bloomington location of Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People building and the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis in 2013, Shelton said. A site in Hopkins is also on the radar for the third quarter of 2013 as well as moving from Century Plaza in 2014 to a health services building on Portland Avenue owned by the county, she said.
North Minneapolis will have a regional office as well, but a location has not been identified yet.
A decade in the making
The idea to concentrate county human services in regional sites instead of downtown has developed during the last decade as planners reviewed locations where staff was working more and the cities clients live in.
It started with the Northwest Family Services Collaborative and a vision to open a service center with multiple partners and services to help the community, Shelton said.
Early partners included Community Emergency Assistance Programs, which relocated its office to the Brooklyn Center building in September, and Osseo Area School District’s Adult Education Center, which opened in 2005.
CEAP hoped to have other nonprofit organizations lease space in the building, but the economic recession caused possible partners to not have the funding to locate there, Shelton said.
As those plans started to lose their momentum, the county was evaluating its own regional planning model.
“We began to look to have a larger physical presence in this community knowing the needs and watching the demographics for many, many years,” Shelton said. “We decided we would join CEAP,” she said. “The vision changed, but nonetheless it came to fruition.”
Funding for the six regional Hennepin County offices, about $10.3 million, is supported through the capital bonds budget.
“It’s part of our five-year capital plan,” said Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat, whose district includes Brooklyn Center.
“It’s just going to be a better way to operate and easier for the clients,” Opat said.
Services at the Brooklyn Center office include renewing benefits, child support, food support, cash assistance, health care programs and emergency resources.
There is onsite childcare for clients to use during their appointments. Staff will also connect clients with services not immediately available at the center.
A majority of clients are expected to be looking for services on a walk-in basis, and the center features more then 20 offices for those appointments in addition to six for scheduled meetings, Shelton added.
“We could not have one location to accommodate all the services we offer, but what clients do get here is one-stop access to all of those services,” she said.
In addition, partners will use the community room of the center to bring onsite dental care for children there and representatives of CAPI, a service for immigrants and refugees, will make use of the facility to reach out to people, Shelton said.
Shelton, with the help of Project Manager Tina Sorenson, will focus on the operations of the Brooklyn Center regional office and making sure staff and clients’ needs are being met before moving on to planning the next facility.
They will continue to monitor the client population that visits the office each day, where they’re from and what services they utilize.
“You could come here and you could deal with a child support issue, a childcare systems issue, or try to, and pay a Hennepin County bill all at the same time,” Sorenson said.
“This is what the community is asking for, and it makes sense,” she said.
The public is invited to a grand opening at the Northwest Family Service Center, 7051 Brooklyn Blvd., 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.