St. Peter Motel 1

Partners for Affordable Housing Executive Director Jen Theneman discusses plans with property managers, Roy and Valerie Pittman, in April, regarding the St. Peter Motel’s turnover to an emergency homeless shelter this fall. (Heather Gordon/St. Peter Herald)

Partners for Affordable Housing is set to launch its newest option for addressing affordable housing challenges in St. Peter — Union Street Place, aptly named for the street that it resides on.

“We chose the name not just because of its location, but also because we feel that this is a place of union, where people in need will collaborate with our staff and support each other as peers,” said Executive Director Jen Theneman.

The property at 221 Union St., formerly known as the St. Peter Motel, now has an ideal setup for short, comfortable and private stays for individuals and families. Partners staff provides case management assistance to identify and work with guests to overcome barriers such as housing, transportation, employment, food, clothes, child care, identification document replacement and much more.

The stay lasts up to 90 days and guests work on resume writing, interviewing skills, budgeting, filling out forms and identifying goals and next steps.

“To give someone a place to sleep for the night when they have no else to go, is a wonderful thing. But to give them tools, resources and help to navigate the difficulty that lacking income presents, is truly a blessing. We take our mission to provide emergency and affordable housing very seriously, and it’s a banner day when it all works out and we’re helping someone move to their new home,” said Theneman.

Guests at the sister shelters in Mankato, Theresa House and Welcome Inn, share that while it’s so important to connect to valuable resources and obtain housing while becoming self-sufficient, the staff really make the difference.

Jackie (not her real name), shared recently, “No one in my family ever told me growing up that they loved me, that they believed in me, that I would make something of myself. I’m 40 years old, and no one has ever really supported me to be successful. The staff at Partners not only supported me, but they made me feel valued and loved. They encouraged me when things weren’t going my way, talked to me every day and reassured me that I deserved a better life and helped me get that. I’m leaving in a few days,and I just want to let everyone know that they helped me, but that I’ve never felt so loved and gotten so many hugs from people that really cared about me.”

The new location, Union Street Place, will operate similarly to the Mankato properties with a temporary stay and case management. Also offered at the location is a shared room that houses computer desks for employment and housing searches and living room. The nonprofit organization hopes to raise more money to renovate existing space to include a full kitchen, living room and laundry areas.

Kelsey Johnson-Rode, Shelter Manager at Union Street Place, said, “Guests have their own private room with furniture and storage, as well as, a dorm refrigerator and microwave for now. We envision a larger space in the future for guests and families to be able to cook healthy meals, get out of their rooms and congregate with other guests. We know that peer-to-peer support is really important to help people going through difficult times, that they are not alone.”

This project began when a private ministry group purchased the St Peter Motel in June 2018 and then immediately donated it to Partners for Affordable Housing.

“This amazing group had a vision for supporting people who were experiencing housing challenges; they knew that people were sleeping in cars and tents, moving from place to place, just trying to survive. Their willingness to step up to do something big with their donation is such a tremendous blessing,” said Theneman. “I hope they are pleased with where we’ve taken off from there.”

Since the donation, Partners has worked to obtain grant and private funding with some success, however the organization is still seeking monetary donations to expand.

“Currently, we have enough funding to cover expenses for seven rooms every night for the next two years. This leaves four rooms that we’ll be using as affordable month-to-month rentals to generate a little income to offset operational expenses. We hope to add another case manager and expand to four additional shelter rooms in the future,” said Theneman.

The group accepts monetary and household goods, and will be holding a fundraiser in April 2020 at Gustavus. The event was previously scheduled for July 2019 and was postponed due to lack of ticket sales. Theneman noted, “We know that people in and around St. Peter are just getting to know us, and we hope that through opening, people can see that we’re doing good work and that we’ve been able to do this so far on our own, but that we still need the community’s help to continue it.”

Volunteers have stepped up to help, however. Large groups from Verizon, Minnesota Elevator and BioLife have worked with staff on many projects.

“It’s been great to have the business community come to help and learn more about homelessness at the same time. They are hard workers and you can tell that they really care about their community,” said Johnson-Rode.

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