Amanda Felix shows off the apartment she’s about to move into.

It’s brand-new. It has two bedrooms, one for her and one for her one- and three-year old sons.

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “It’s breathtaking. It will help me get my family back. I’m so grateful. It’s a dream come true.”

Felix is one of 27 people moving into the new Solace Apartments, designed for those who are coming from local treatment courts and out of chemical dependency treatment. The building has 30 units, which are mostly spoken for right when it opens Nov. 1.

It is secure with 24/7 staffing. And it has spaces for group and individual therapy. Instead of occupants trying to figure out how to get to their appointments without a car, they will simply go to an upstairs alcove where therapists’ offices and a group therapy room are.

There’s community space downstairs, too, which has some children’s activities stocked and a kitchen. It’s already slated to host a “friendsgiving” on Thanksgiving.

A long time coming

For the project collaborators, seeing the finished project at an opening ceremony Oct. 25 was five years in the making.

“This exemplifies community development at its best,” said Rick Goodemann, executive director of Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. The partnership took the lead on developing the project, finding a site and mashing together $6.7 million in different state and federal funding sources.

There are only a few two-bedroom apartments still available. A few on the main floor are handicapped-accessible. The building, in total, includes 30 units. Seven are set aside for people who have been in long-term homelessness.

Besides rooms for therapy, Solace Apartments will provide each resident some housing essentials, such as dishes, cleaning materials, a bed and bedding and laundry detergent and quarters for the coin-operated laundry.

Resident Services Coordinator Ashley McCarthy said staff are working now at streamlining the paperwork for the three service providers: ASC Psychological Services, New Beginnings Minnesota and Horizon Homes.

“Our ultimate goal is that residents would fill out just one thing,” she said.

Another task for her is to track down some child care for evening group therapy times, again, with the goal of making it as easy as possible for residents to comply with the requirements of Treatment Court.

It started five years ago when Dr. George Komaridis, director of ASC Psychological Services, told Goodemann that once people left inpatient treatment for chemical dependency, they struggled because they couldn’t find safe, affordable housing. That drove high recidivism rates, which Nicollet County District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel saw.

Together, the three of them drew together a group of county and city staff and officials and service providers to craft a concept. St. Peter was chosen to host the project and, while there was a bit of reluctance on the site, it was eventually settled as North Industrial Park, close to Gault Park and public transportation.

Mayor Chuck Zieman said, “The project shows what can be done with some stick-to-it-tiveness.”

As it opens, the “real work” begins.

“If this can do something to help one person find hope and solace, then we’ve accomplished what we wanted to do in helping people get a better life,” he said.

Praise for Solace

Mary Tingerthal, commissioner with Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, said she was not surprised that St. Peter hosted the unique project.

“This is a very welcoming community, willing to tackle its problems,” she said.

This project was one of the first supported by the National Housing Trust Fund and she was preparing congressional testimony to protect the three-year-old program.

“It’s very difficult to be successful overcoming tough barriers in life if you don’t have a place to live,” Tingerthal said.

John Errigo, director of syndication and loan officer for Minnesota Equity Fund, built on that theme.

“These people working to reconnect with family deserve our empathy and support,” he said. “We give them a hand up to become full-fledged members of this community.”

Krehbiel would not take any credit, saying she was amazed to watch the service providers and architects work together and hear the partnership and others work around bureaucratic hurdles. Nicollet County Drug Court, now called Nicollet County Treatment Court, has been dubbed “Recovery Court” by those in it, she said. She told the crowd at the opening ceremony that one participant had recently committed suicide.

“It was because they had no hope,” she said.

She’s tasked some of those in Recovery Court to plan the first friendsgiving at Solace Apartments.

When Krehbiel encountered Felix after the ceremony, she told Felix to stay close with others in Treatment Court who were intent on completing the requirements and rebuilding their lives. After the necessary time for treatment and creating a stable life, Solace Apartments residents will move out and into housing elsewhere in the community.

But after a period of chemical dependency, losing her children and instability, Felix is happy for the first step.

“The space is phenomenal,” she said. “It’s more than enough room for the kids and I. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. This is life changing.”

Reach Associate Editor Nancy Madsen at 507-931-8568 or follow her on @SPHnancy.

Nancy Madsen has written for newspapers in Watertown, N.Y., and Mankato, as well as for PolitiFact Virginia at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. Nancy is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

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