TC Daily Planet: Catholic Charities opens new facility

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

The new facility serves two different populations: one for late-stage alcoholic men and another that serves homeless men.

The four-story rectangular building — with a hint of Bauhaus — at 902 Hersey St. stands out in an otherwise industrial zone north of University Avenue and east of Raymond in south St. Anthony Park.

Inside, the sparking floors, vibrantly colored hallways and spacious rooms bring dorm life to mind, belying the fact that this dual-purpose facility, operated by Catholic Charities, houses chronic substance abusers and the homeless.

The building is new but Catholic Charities has a long history in this area. They operated a nearby facility at 2300 Wycliff St. for 20 years. According to Bill Hockenberger, program supervisor, that building was overcrowded and inadequate.

City, county and state officials worked with Catholic Charities to create a new facility, one that’s more home than institution. The result is the St. Paul Residence and St. Anthony Residence, which were completed in September.

According to Tracy Berglund, director of housing at Catholic Charities, the new facility is one building that serves two different populations. The 60-unit St. Anthony Residence is for late-stage alcoholic men. The St. Paul Residence, also 60 units, serves homeless men. Half of these units come with a lease.

One need look no further than Bill Hockenberger for an example of how Catholic Charities can change a life.

“I’m a chronic alcoholic myself who has been in recovery since 1995,” he said.

For Hockenberger, the residents at the facility aren’t simply clients. “I pretty much drank with these guys,” he said, “and I’ve been around the corner with them. I even went to school with some of them.”

Hockenberger said he went through six attempts at treatment before one finally “took.” He started working at Catholic Charities in 1995 as a janitor and eventually moved up to his present position.

“Working here helps keep me sober,” he said.

Hockenberger said that “harm reduction,” the treatment model used at St. Anthony Residence, differs from the total abstinence approach of Alcoholics Anonymous.

“These are late-stage alcoholics,” he said, “and our goal is not to stop them from drinking. We’re working with them on reducing the harm by moving them away from drinking rubbing alcohol to drinking vodka, for instance. Then we might get them to cut down on the vodka.”

Berglund added, “We do this because it’s humane. Many of the men who are unable to stop drinking end up going through treatment and failing over and over.”

Berglund said that St. Anthony Residence is less expensive than most of the alternatives.

“If they weren’t here, they’d be using detox, and that’s $218 a night,” she said. “Or they end up in ER at $500 a night. If they land in jail, that’s $80 a night, and if they need an ambulance ride, that’s $800.”

In contrast, it costs $46 a night to house someone at St. Anthony Residence, which is funded by Ramsey County. Residents get three meals a day and case management services.

“We meet them where they are,” said Berglund. “We’re not trying to change anybody. We have people who sober up and move on to an independent living situation. That’s not typical and we don’t expect it, but it is possible. This is a cost-effective and humane way to address a problem that has been with us throughout our history.”

Berglund said that Catholic Charities’ harm reduction model has been implemented by other groups, including the city of Duluth, which has a similar facility called San Marcos.

Hockenberger said that most St. Anthony residents come to realize that “this is the end of the line for them. If the county has a client coming in every seven days to detox, instead of spending thousands of dollars on detox, we offer a setting where they can do maintenance drinking. As long as they follow house rules, we have a nice safe place for them.”

Berglund said the staff helps residents get to medical appointments and makes sure they get the benefits they’re eligible for.

“They receive preventive medical care, so they’re staying in good health and are not taxing the system,” she said. “Giving them safe, secure housing is the biggest thing because then they’re off the streets and less likely to come to harm.”

Berglund said the Catholic Charities philosophy includes the idea of empowerment. “We don’t do something for someone if he can do it himself,” she said.

She added that case managers meet with clients to set measurable goals. The case managers also meet as a team to review clients’ files. Rooms are checked twice a day.

“No one disappears here or slips through the cracks,” she said.

Berglund started with Catholic Charities in 1999, running a shelter in Minneapolis for 100 men. She laments the lack of affordable housing in the Twin Cities.

“I feel a passion for trying to build a solution to homelessness, and that solution is permanent housing,” she said. “We also need services and supportive housing for those with mental health and chemical health problems, low income and bad credit history. We need to provide options besides a mat on the floor.”

She said the St. Paul Residence, which is for homeless men, has received 85 applications, 51 of which are from the Dorothy Day Center, a Catholic Charities facility in downtown St. Paul providing temporary shelter, food and services for the homeless.

Jim, one of the first men to move into the St. Paul Residence, came from the Union Gospel Mission. He was happy to give a tour of his room, which includes a bed, wardrobe, refrigerator and nightstand.

“It’s pretty nice being here,” he said, “kind of like being in a penthouse. Until now, I’d been pretty much going back and forth between Dorothy Day and Union Gospel.”

Jim said he started using drugs at age 13 but now has four years of sobriety. “I’m going to be seeking some employment and eventually some permanent housing,” he said. “I’m going to get back on my feet and get going again.”

Though the building was designed to be functional, said Hockenberger, attention was paid to appearance as well. Hallways are red, yellow and blue, and there are plenty of windows. Other amenities include a lounge and computer room, as well as a hospice for those making the final journey.

Catholic Charities is a 501c3 organization that’s open to those of all faiths — or no faith.

“We have an ecumenical spiritual care department for those who want it,” said Berglund. “Sometimes, if there’s no family available, we’ll do memorial services and provide plots for people. We want to serve the whole person: mental, physical and spiritual.”

Both Hockenberger and Berglund encouraged neighborhood residents to visit the new facility.

“We’ve been very involved with the St. Anthony Park community for 20 years,” said Berglund. “Overall folks are pretty accepting, and we also want to be part of the neighborhood.”

The St. Anthony and St. Paul Residences are located at 902 Hersey St. More information is available at 646-0934 or www.ccspm.org.

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