Lack of funding threatens project helping homeless at Brooklyn Center hotel

The program has served more than 80 families but could end in just days.

Howanda Williams was homeless, hungry and broke last fall when the 2ndChance­Project found her a room at a Brooklyn Center hotel, provided meals and then found her a permanent place to live.

“I am grateful,” said Williams, a mother of three kids under 8. “They gave me the resources I needed. They saved my life.”

But Williams fears others like her will be left on the street. A state contract awarded to the Minneapolis nonprofit to run the Hotel to Home program expires at the end of March. Without additional funding, the program, which has served more than 80 families since last fall, will be forced to shut down.

“I am worried,” said C.J. Jessup, 2ndChanceProject founder. “I believe somebody somewhere can see the good in what we do.”

Jessup founded the 2ndChance­Project last year just as unrest after the death of George Floyd bubbled up.

He wanted to help those being released from prison or state hospitals integrate back into society. Drawing on his work experience in group homes, Jessup secured a large house in south Minneapolis. In August he took in three men and provided them with shelter and a place to develop leadership skills.

Jessup learned about Hennepin County’s Hotel to Home program, and that led him to the Radisson Hotel in Brooklyn Center, where a different program had been housing people evicted from homeless encampments. There were problems with violence, crime and drugs, said Laural Kenney, the hotel’s director of sales. Jessup took over and everything changed, she said.

Kenney said the Radisson is hoping to keep the partnership going.

“The perception is that people who live like this do it to see what they can get for free,” Kenney said. “The truth is that something has happened for them to get to this. This is about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Everybody deserves a second chance.”

The 2ndChanceProject is designed to provide family structure, self-discipline and personal development. The nonprofit provides people with rooms, three meals a day, clothing, medical services, counseling, security and “whatever they need,” Jessup said, until they find long-term housing. The bills are paid with money from the federal CARES Act.

Jessup used $766,000 in CARES Act funding to cover expenses from October to December. He was granted another $578,000 to get through February, and stretched that through March by laying off some staff and using fewer rooms.

Now just 15 people, including eight children, remain at the Radisson. They will have to leave if funding runs out Wednesday.

Jessup, who has started a GoFundMe account, said he hopes some of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that President Biden signed into law will trickle down to his nonprofit. He said he also reached out to several cities in Hennepin County for help.

“We took their people,” he said. “We saw the $27 million the Floyd family got. They found funding for that. I can prevent the next George Floyd. This is where the need is. This program works.”

Williams agreed. She came to Minneapolis from Iowa with nothing to her name. She planned on living with a relative but that didn’t work out.

Then she heard about the 2ndChanceProject and she, her fiancé and children ages 8, 4 and 1 moved into the Radisson in November. In January, they moved into a three-bedroom apartment.

“They do such a good job,” Williams said. “I hope they can do it for the next family.”

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