Harbor Center becomes Waterfront Center
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
Karen Saari is looking forward to a new name—and a new future—for the Harbor Center on Waterfront Drive, a drop-in center for community members with mental health challenges where she is employed as a peer helper.
On Feb. 1, the center became the Waterfront Center and is now under Lake County direction.
“I’m happy with the way things are now,” Saari said.
The Human Development Center had previously overseen the center. According to Vickie Thompson, director of Health and Human Services for the County, the County paid HDC to operate the center with a revenue stream they received from a state-operated mental health service in Duluth, Bridge House. Bridge House closed last summer, which led to an unknown future for Harbor Center.
Initially, the funding cut meant the loss of a half-time HDC program coordinator for the Center. Remaining funds allowed it to stay open through the end of the year. In December, Lake County sent HDC a proposed contract for another year of operation without the coordinator position. However, according to Jeff Herman, CEO of HDC, HDC decided they could not afford to maintain services under the new contract.
HDC planned a meeting in early January, where Herman and Ed Niemi, therapist at the Human Development Center in Two Harbors, told those assembled that the Center would be closing. Though Thompson was there to assure the clients that the County wouldn’t let that happen, Saari said many clients were upset by the announcement and haven’t been back since. She said she’s been promising them that the instability is over, hoping they will return.
County Administrator Matt Huddleston said the County plans on giving the Center back to its consumers.
“HDC, due to the funding cuts, decided to let go of the Harbor Center. The County stepped in and we’re looking to make it a consumer-run center. We’re really going to be the fiscal agent and provide oversight and limited support,” Huddleston said.
This means more responsibility for Saari and other consumers; they will be forming a board and electing officers the first week of March. Where HDC controlled the Center’s budget and activities, the consumer board will now take over. They will have to keep accurate records of money received and spent, keep the Center clean and plan their own activities. According to Saari, they’re up to the challenge, and she said she’s just happy for some stability.
“I’m glad it’s over with,” Saari said.
The Waterfront Center will be open its usual hours of 12:30- 4:30 p.m. daily. Saari said they will be adding hours on Thursday evenings to increase accessibility. They will also hold an open house in mid-March; watch the News-Chronicle for the date as it approaches.