The Apartments with a Goal: Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness
Before moving to Delancey Apartments, Quenton describes life as “real hectic.” First, his wife left him. Then, unable to pay over $1,000 a month in rent, he lost the house they shared, too. He went to the Salvation Army, and eventually found himself sleeping behind a dumpster at a fast food chain.
A case manager told him about Delancey Apartments after he suffered a heart attack.
A 13-unit building in St. Paul, Delancey Apartments looks much like any other apartment complex. There’s a community room, a bank of mailboxes, a bulletin board with flyers, and hallways lined with apartments. Various sounds and smells waft out – a reminder of the lives lived behind each door. The mix of tenants, including a family with young kids, come and go, sometimes exchanging a brief hello greeting. It’s a community. For the people who live there, it’s home.
To get in Delancey Apartments, a staff member – monitoring traffic via a camera by the front door – has to buzz you in. Visitors are required to show an ID. Around-the-clock staff do daily rounds of the hallways, providing support and safety for tenants. A St. Paul Police Officer does rounds once a week. “There is a comfort level that guests need to be checked in, so I can sleep good at night not having to worry about someone breaking into my apartment,” Quenton says.
Tenants arrive at the Apartments with unique stories, often sharing similar elements — histories of abuse, legal problems, mental health symptoms, substance use, medical issues, sometimes traumatic brain injuries, and other disabilities. It’s nearly impossible to be homeless without being arrested for things like loitering and trespassing, so criminal histories are also common.
“Folks that have histories of legal issues tend to be high utilizers of the legal system and those are the people that tend to get screened out of housing options,” says Julie Grothe, Service Director, Integrated Services. “We’re screening people into housing instead of screening them out. We try to work with people that have these histories because – after being homeless – they need help adjusting to living inside. Having 24/7 staffing really helps.”
If a tenant needs support or assistance, a staff member, including two Peer Support Recovery Specialists – who bring personal, lived experience to the job – is there to help. “When I’m down and out, they listen, and give positive feedback,” Quenton remarks. Staff members also help tenants learn or re-learn skills easily forgotten after a long period of homelessness – how to be a good neighbor, how to clean, and how to get groceries. “They get housing support to maintain stability,” says Vicenta Valero, Program Manager for Housing Support Services. “They can connect with a case manager, if needed, and if they have a case manager, they can get employment services as well.”
“What we hear from police and community members is that we have improved the neighborhood – not just our little corner,” Valero continues. “The police officer who does rounds at the Apartment tells us that behavior from some tenants that used to be a concern in the community has changed. When you give people a space, meet their basic needs, and provide services, people can make changes in their lives.”
Delancey Apartments is succeeding at the goal – keep people off of the street — established in 2009 when a number of partners joined together to figure out how to get housing for the 20% of people who were still experiencing chronic homelessness. All of the current tenants have maintained their apartments for at least 1 year; one person has lived there for 8 years. “For some, Delancey Apartments is the last stop,” Valero explains. “For others, it’s a temporary stop on their way to a more independent living situation.”
Quenton’s been living in his apartment, which he refers to as his “sanctuary”, for a year and 5 months. The things he likes best about living at Delancey Apartments: Movie Night, Barbequing, and having a key to his own door. With help from staff, he also got a job.
“Homelessness is a problem that feels too big to tackle for most of us,” Valero says. So, a lot of times, individuals in homelessness become invisible as we feel overwhelmed.”
“We put all of these rules and restrictions on housing,” Julie says. If we can’t help people access housing, they’ll find it on the light rail or on busses. People have to sleep somewhere. The longer someone is homeless, the harder it gets.”