So much more than a shelter: Innovative ‘Center for Opportunity’ is one step closer to becoming reality

The Bismarck-Mandan area is one step closer to a permanent homeless shelter and North Dakota is on the cusp of having a first-of-its-kind innovative center to help individuals transition out of poverty.

Lewis & Clark Development Group closed on the new ‘Center for Opportunity’ last month, marking the latest milestone in a long journey that began when Bismarck’s only homeless shelter closed in November 2017.

At that time, the Missouri Slope Areawide (MSA) United Way stepped into the void by leasing rooms in downtown Bismarck to provide temporary shelter. Community discussions, which included LCD Group, then began on finding a permanent solution. Unfortunately, a number of factors conspired against developing a comprehensive approach, which prompted the MSA United Way to take the lead in trying to establish a permanent shelter.

MSA United Way secured a $500,000 grant from the Tom and Frances Leech Foundation for a project and reached out to LCD Group for additional funding through CommunityWorks North Dakota. This eventually led to a partnership with LCD Group that allowed for the purchase of the former Open Door Community Center located at 1140 South 12th Street in Bismarck.

MSA United Way’s vision: More than a shelter

MSA United Way’s vision is to transform the 3,200 square-foot property into the new ‘Center for Opportunity’ which will serve as both permanent homeless shelter and a one-stop shop for individuals and families seeking a pathway out of poverty.

Acquisition of the property required both MSA United Way and LCD Group to put down $270,000. The build out to the current state was accomplished with $135,000 from LCD Group. Proposed additional funding involves $2 million in New Markets Tax Credits and another $2 million to be collected from contributions and a capital campaign.

Under terms of the partnership, MSA United Way will become the sole owner of the property within seven years. Upon completion, several MSA United Way programs will be administered out of the building, most notably: Job Service North Dakota training services, support groups, Bible study groups, and a weekly backpack food program that feeds approximately 1,300 local children. These services are, and future resources will be, designed to target the root causes of poverty in the Bismarck-Mandan metro area. The center sits on 1.7 acres which also provides ample room for future expansions.

A perfect marriage of missions

Lewis & Clark Development Group is the state’s only charteredNeighborWorks Americamember. Brent Ekstrom, LCD Group executive director, says the partnership with the MSA United Way is a perfect marriage of resources and missions.

“We are lending our expertise and providing direction on financing and development so the United Way can mitigate its risk and focus on delivering its services,” says Ekstrom.

“Together, we are both fulfilling each of of our organizations’ missions. For Lewis and Clark Development Group, the Center for Opportunity is a community development and housing issue. For United Way, this center allows it to fully meet its mission to end hunger and homelessness in our area.”

MSA United Way estimates the ‘Center for Opportunity’ will serve approximately 2,500 individuals. This number is derived from the organization currently serving 530 unique homeless persons per year and around 2,000 other residents – many of them schoolchildren – who seek assistance for food and other resources and services throughout the year.

Ekstrom sees this partnership as a model of the type of collaboration and innovation that is possible when no one group is concerned about getting the credit but, rather, focused on providing a solution to a vexing challenge.

“The United Way is providing so many critical services to our community. We are pleased to partner with them as they provide the solution to addressing homelessness and poverty in the Bismarck-Mandan area,” notes Ekstrom.

Click here for more information on MSA United Way. Also, learn more about LCD Group’s programs byvisiting our website.