When Rapid City Collective Impact announced it had chosen a preferred site for the Transformation Center campus on Nov. 2, it represented the culmination of more than two years of research, discussion and planning.
Questions about the homeless and impoverished population's needs, the current stock of resources available to them and the challenges in administering proper treatment and assistance had been answered.
Now, an entirely new set of questions loomed.
At a Pennington County Board of Commissioners meeting the following week, some commissioners expressed surprise at the announcement, saying they had a number of unanswered questions about how the center would be funded and how much money, if any, Collective Impact would be asking for from the county. This spring, the county plans to open its $14 million Restoration Center at 321 Kansas City St., which sits just west of the proposed Transformation Center site.
After lengthy discussions with Collective Impact project manager Charity Doyle, two of its chief fundraisers and Mayor Steve Allender, it appears the city, not the county, will be asked for a contribution.
City to 'benefit' from project
“It’s a $16 million project,” Doyle said from her second story office at the corner of St. Joseph Street and Mount Rushmore Road last week, adding that the total price included the cost to buy the land and property, and to renovate the building. “We have raised all but $7 million, and we have the renovation dollars committed should this go through. We’re only asking for probably the $7 million from the city.”
Doyle said she expects there to be resistance from some citizens and perhaps a few Rapid City Council members for such an expenditure, admitting that part of her job will be to convince the community of the center's long-term benefits. Doyle said she thinks it's "absolutely fair" to ask the city for money.
“If we can centralize that and everybody is on a shared system, that’s saving them (county/city) resources," Doyle said. "The city is going to see a benefit, the providers are going to see a benefit, the people we’re serving are going to see a benefit. Everybody has shortfall in their budget. So, by implementing this model and giving it a couple years to really have those adjustments take place, there are going to be opportunities for all of them and we can start getting to the things that matter instead of being in survival mode every year and pulling from a pot that’s not growing nearly as fast as the demand is.”
As for the annual operating, maintenance and staffing costs, Doyle said the expectation is for that to be covered by private fundraising. "It’s not going to take a whole lot because we’re not providing the services,” she said, explaining that providers like the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, which operates a shelter, and the Hope Center, which provides day services to the homeless, are two community groups that have been approached about relocating to the campus.
Mayor Steve Allender said he was supportive of the idea of a onetime contribution from the city and expected it to be considered by the city council sometime in early 2018. The city’s Vision Fund, he said, would be the most likely source for the monies.
“I think it’d be better to have a one-time, upfront contribution from the city rather than ongoing operations funding,” he said in an interview. “The only ongoing cost I can think of will be the cost that we’ve paid for decades to share in the operations of the (City/County Alcohol Drug Program) detox program. The city’s involvement, if I get my way, would be to be the building owner and to lease to the Collective Impact organization.”
Allender added that he thought spending $7 million to buy what has been tentatively appraised as a $12 million structure was a good deal for the city. Preliminary plans are for the city to lease the land to an, as of now, unformed nonprofit that would manage the center.
According to city attorney Joel Landeen, the city’s decision to purchase the land and property could ultimately be referred to a special election but the funding source, being an administrative decision, could not.
Finding a site key
Anna Quinn, executive director of the Hope Center, said the center’s board had yet to make a decision on whether to relocate to the campus. Lysa Allison, executive director of the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, also said the mission had yet to make any commitment but recognized the potential benefit of joining the campus.
“With the understanding that we will be much stronger and more effective by working together, we endorse the collaborative model proposed by Rapid City Collective Impact,” Allison said in a written statement to the Journal. “We look forward to the next phase of discussion to more clearly understand how to best utilize and improve our existing services to maximize the benefits to our community."
The Career Learning Center of the Black Hills, YMCA of Rapid City, and Behavior Management Systems, a community mental health center, have also expressed interest in the campus.
“BMS would be able to offer a broad range of services at the campus, including therapy, psychiatric evaluations, medication management and case management,” BMS CEO Alan Solano wrote in a letter of intent to Collective Impact. “If feasible, we could create a ‘mini mental health center’ on the campus.”
But before any binding commitments can come, Doyle said, providers would need to be confident about the location and see the space to visualize how it could accommodate their needs. A “provider workshop,” which would include a tour of the space and discussion among providers for potential areas of collaboration, would come in the future.
Doyle called the progression of steps Collective Impact must tackle before it can open the center a "nonlinear process.” The center is tentatively scheduled to begin operating in early 2019. A site must be selected before partners sign on, she said. "Now, the conversations are site specific so we can move that conversation forward. You know, ‘What's this going to look like? What are we going to have to do to hopefully make this happen?’”
Due to their space needs, the Cornerstone Rescue Mission would be the first provider Collective would need a commitment from. Doyle said questions like whether the mission wanted to include a soup kitchen in their plan would determine things like ingress/egress points and fencing, which is expected to surrounded the entire campus.
Sandy Diegel, president and CEO of the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, and Liz Hamburg, executive director of the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, are members of Collective Impact's “Guiding Council” and “Funding Circle.” They are working on securing commitments from private donors to help fund the center.
Both said that without an idea of the providers, they couldn’t give an estimate of the operating, maintenance and staffing costs. “We’re just beginning to layout what this is going to look at operationally,” Hamburg said.
Diegel said layout designs preclude any accurate estimates, but without an idea of the operations plan, designs were wasteful.
“If money was no object we could have designed something, but money's always an object,” Diegel said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to fill in the pieces.”
Location, location, location
Though much has yet to be determined, Hamburg, Diegel, Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom all agreed that the proposed site was the right choice.
“The proximity to (the county's) Restoration Center is really ideal so that the two programs can work closely together," Diegel said. "The layout of the property is perfect with the services and residential space that’s needed.”
She noted the three adjacent apartment towers — College Station Apartments owned by local developer Hani Shafai — would be used to house people enrolled in the center’s programs.
Hamburg cited the same reasons and added another. “So many of the people that were interviewed would talk about the barriers to connecting to the services they needed,” she said.
In a livability study conducted by Collective Impact, many of the 800 people interviewed expressed the difficulty they had getting to meetings and mandated appointments because of a lack of transportation and the dispersal of city/county service buildings.
Without transportation, someone could miss a court-mandated appointment and end up right back in the criminal justice system. Jegeris is the first to admit that’s not helping anyone. “The jail is very ineffective to create lasting change, and it’s also very expensive,” he said.
He cited the costs of keeping someone in jail overnight, then assigning a prosecutor, public defender, judge, court reporter, clerk of court, and police officer to write and store the report. During the winter, Jegeris said, his officers often come across people who intentionally get arrested because of the warm bed and meal incarceration provides. Petty larceny, open containers or public intoxication is usually the modus operandi.
“That amount of resources to handle that one problem for simply that 24 hour period is, in my belief, a misuse of tax dollars," Jegeris said. "We can do better.”
Doing better isn’t just about saving money, Doyle said, adding that the real benefit comes when people on the periphery make their way back into the community as productive and engaged citizens. That’s much harder to quantify than the costs of land, property and operations, she admits. But Collective Impact has always been about playing the long game.
“I think there are a few people getting a little ahead of themselves,” she said. “It’s a piece at a time. When you look at this whole timeline of the next year and a half, we’re just starting. So all of those things are in the works, and there’s a little bit of jumping the gun, I think.”
And for those who are questioning the location, concept, and claiming a lack of transparency, Doyle was anything but opaque.
“Nobody is in the dark unless they want to be,” she said. “This wasn’t done in a vacuum.”
If you’re looking for a way to do some good while also doing your holiday shopping this year, consider buying a Christmas tree from one of the young salesmen at the Club for Boys.
For 37 years the Club for Boys has been using their Christmas tree lot to raise money, while also teaching the boys about getting and keeping a job.
They go through the whole process, said Executive Director Doug Herrmann. “They are interviewed and selected to work the tree lot. We do a lot of customer service training, (like) how to greet customers and show them around. They also learn a lot about trees and the various strengths of trees. And good old hard work.”
A group of about 30 boys work afternoon and weekend shifts selling several varieties of trees at the Club for Boys, 320 N. Fourth St.
“It’s been really good,” said Mathias Siegel, 13. “They taught me a lot — like how to tell how old trees are. It’s a really good first job.”
After the burgeoning salesmen help you pick out the right tree, they’ll wrap it up in a net and even load it onto your vehicle.
Herrmann said they have sold about 1,500 trees so far, with a goal of 2,500.
“It’s a great community fundraiser,” he said. “We always really like people coming out and getting a chance to interact with the boys, and I think that’s always the best thing for us and the boys — to see them at their best and doing really good work.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office continued its streak of successfully prosecuting people caught in the Sturgis rally sex stings on Friday when a jury convicted one of the arrestees.
Andries Snyman, 43, was found guilty of using the internet to try and entice a minor into having sex in 2016. He faces 10 years to life in prison, the consequence of the electronic messages he exchanged with a law enforcement officer posing as a 14-year-old boy.
Snyman showed no reaction to the verdict, which came Friday afternoon, on the fourth day of a trial that at times became tense.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Collins, emphasized that Snyman began talking about sexual activity with what he believed to be a boy just minutes after they met on a social media app designed for gay men. Snyman, she said, asked inappropriate questions about the boy’s body, then persuaded him to meet in person that evening of Aug. 5, 2016.
A South African national working at a ranch in Isabel, Snyman was arrested in the parking lot of Rapid City’s Stevens High School, where he and the boy agreed to meet.
“This was all about sex,” Collins told jurors in her closing argument Thursday, “simple case."
Defense attorney Tom Diggins responded that Snyman had no intention of having sex with the boy. He instead wanted to tell the boy about predatory men online and the difficulties of being gay, especially in a place that didn’t have a lot of resources to support sexual minorities.
“His intent was truly to offer guidance and help,” Diggins said in closing, highlighting messages in which Snyman asked why the boy was on an adult sex/dating site and talked about “explaining” matters to him.
Someone with the goal of enticing wouldn’t use this language, Diggins told the seven women and five men on the jury. He said Snyman had no history of improper behavior toward children, and his electronic devices seized by police didn't contain any photos or messages with minors.
Earlier Thursday, the defense called an expert witness who testified about the unique stress suffered by sexual minorities in the country and the importance of social support to combat this stress.
The prosecution, which also presented an expert witness in rebuttal, said Snyman’s supposed method of helping the boy wasn’t proper and that he was using the gay community as a “shield.”
Snyman was only the third person to go to trial among the 36 men caught in the Sturgis rally sex stings, an annual undercover operation established in 2013. The two other men were found guilty at trial, and 21 have pleaded guilty under deals with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In an interview after the verdict was announced, Collins said she felt “relieved” and “happy.” The amount of time it took the jury to conclude the case, she said, was an indication that reaching a unanimous verdict didn’t come easy.
The case was handed to the jury for deliberation before 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and it reached a verdict around 1 p.m. Friday.
The courtroom victories in the rally cases show that these investigations are important and that “members of the community expect law enforcement to conduct these operations to keep kids safe,” said Special Agent Brent Gromer, commander of the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which conducts the rally stings to catch people wanting to engage in sexual activity with minors.
The task force, Collins said, plans to make some changes in the way it conducts the stings based on insights gleaned from the trial. Details on the changes were not immediately available.
Collins said two other rally arrestees from 2016, Noah Schottenstein and Joel Zupnik, are preparing to go to trial next year.
The ICAC task force includes personnel from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Federal Public Defender’s Office, which represented Snyman, declined to comment on the verdict.
Snyman is scheduled for sentencing April 19 before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken.
Dec. 10, 2017: Updated story to include task force's plans to make some changes in the way it conducts the rally sex stings.