Elliot Park's Teen Challenge, a faith-based residential drug treatment facility, has nearly filled its 140 beds after an increase of 50 beds was approved by the City Council in March.
The 1619 Portland Ave. S. facility had been zoned for 90 beds since its 1997 opening. The building can hold up to 160 beds, however, so some rooms remained empty, Teen Challenge officials say.
According to the group's executive director, Rich Scherber, "The neighborhood had asked us to start with 90 beds to make sure that we could adequately control the program and to make sure there weren't any problems."
Although the building could hold more beds, Scherber said he felt 140 was a comfortable amount. Scherber said Teen Challenge has no current plans for further expansion.
"There are always people standing at our door, trying to get help," Scherber said about why the group sought higher occupancy. "We're unique in that we provide free drug rehabilitation for people who don't have the ability to pay, which is about 95 percent of the people we service."
The county pays for about 15 of the facility's occupants, but most of the program's funding comes from private contributions from the Christian community. Teen Challenge combines drug rehabilitation with biblical teaching.
Before applying to rezone the property, Scherber garnered the support of Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. officials such as David Fields, the community development coordinator. Fields said Teen Challenge has actively supported neighborhood functions and added that neighborhood officials appreciate the program's rehabilitation mission.
"People familiar with the city have a perception of Elliot Park as overburdened by social service institutions," Fields said. "There is a sentiment in the neighborhood to focus on more housing and economic development. But we continue to support longstanding institutions like Teen Challenge that have been integrated into the neighborhood."
Scherber said the neighborhood has supported Teen Challenge, likely because the structured program supervises residents 24 hours a day and has less turnover than a 28-day drug rehabilitation facility.
Said Fields, "From my personal point of view, it's a very effective treatment mode, even though I don't necessarily agree with the Christian approach. Teen Challenge has a strong requirement for residential and after care."
The Elliot Park site is one of three Teen Challenges in Minnesota and has 45-50 employees.