The Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA)—which has provided housing services for over 40 years—also owns and operates Bill's House Homeless Shelter. The shelter, constructed in 2000, consists of four units for emergency housing and eight units for transitional housing, but the shelter has run at capacity since the day it opened and is finally getting a much-needed rehabilitation with funding from St. Louis County. The shelter also has a single shared kitchen, and a private bedroom and bathroom for staff.
Individuals can reside in emergency housing units for a maximum of 30 days and transitional units for up to 90 days. In 2020, the shelter served 222 households and was forced to turn away 2,054 people due to lack of capacity. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this situation worse. For most of the last 20 years, Bill’s House was the only option for homeless individuals north of Duluth. Guests of the shelter are tracked upon entry and exit from the shelter, as are those who must be turned away due to lack of space.
“Both successful guests and those turned away meet with our Housing Case Managers to determine what other housing options may be available to them now or in the future,” explained Scott Zahorik, executive director of AEOA. “Other programs outside of immediate housing are discussed as well to help them stabilize their lives and work on self-sufficiency. Applications are completed or referrals are made, depending on each individual's particular needs. Connecting individuals with other programs to provide long-term safe resources is crucial to their wellbeing.”
“Guests are at the shelter as a last resort to meet their housing needs and we have a responsibility to offer them a place that is as clean and safe as we can possibly make it,” Zahorik added. “The ability to have a controlled environment for those with immediate housing needs is a significant need for the population served by the shelter.”
The shelter has run at capacity since the day it opened and, in addition to normal wear and tear over the years, it has deferred maintenance due to funding limitations so it is in dire need of several repairs. AEOA has secured $630,994—mostly from St. Louis County—needed to complete the rehabilitation.
The rehabilitation project includes interior and exterior upgrades, safety measures, and architectural work. The interior work includes a new kitchen and bathrooms, flooring, doors, lighting, paint, appliances, insulation, locks, storage, as well as a new security system, electrical work, and HVAC system. The exterior upgrades include a new roof, windows, doors, siding, gutters, heat pump enclosure, as well as creating two sidewalks and a parking lot that are ADA compliant.
AEOA expects the project will be completed by December 31, 2021. “We expect Bill’s House to serve roughly 100 individuals through the remainder of 2021 and about 160 individuals each year after that. This rehabilitation project will ensure Bill’s House will remain viable for the next 20 years to serve individuals and families experiencing housing insecurity,” concluded Zahorik.
To learn more about Bill’s House or other AEOA programs, visit its new website at www.aeoa.org.