Supportive housing center set to open in Duluth
Until last week, it had been six years since Bernie Makes Room-Lussier had a home of her own.
On Monday, she had begun unpacking bags in the new two-bedroom apartment she shares with her 13-year-old daughter inside the $8.5 million Gimaajii Mino Bimaadizyann, which means “We are, all of us together, beginning a good life” in Ojibwe.
The 29-unit supportive housing center in the former YWCA building downtown has been in the works by the American Indian Community Housing Organization since 2006. The grand opening is Wednesday.
“This is just a blessing,” Makes Room-Lussier said. “We’ve been couch-surfing; it’s nothing stable for me or my daughter. It’s really affected her grades. Now that she has her own place to call home, I hope her grades turn around.”
The family was the first to sign a lease for the building, which targets homeless American Indians but is open to anyone who meets income requirements. The waiting list is 180 people long.
The housing comes with optional social services, modern and traditional healing services, and an American Indian learning and cultural center. Residents can get help with applying for benefits and jobs, chemical dependency, mental health, domestic abuse and spirituality. The American Indian Center will focus on things like Ojibwe language classes, cultural practices such as beading, and children’s programs. An elder advisory council also is in the works.
There’s space for tutoring, exercise, cooking classes and computer use. An art gallery filled with work by young American Indians is housed in the historic building, which maintains many of its original features.
The building at 202 W. Second St. fills an enormous need both for affordable housing in Duluth and for a gathering space for urban American Indians, said Janelle Burton, the service coordinator for the American Indian Community Housing Organization.
“It’s a culturally specific place where folks can go and find people like they are, (with) the same backgrounds and cultural interests,” Burton said. “It feels comfortable here; it feels welcoming.”
American Indians are more likely than any other group in Duluth to be homeless, according to data gathered by AICHO. American Indians make up a third of the city’s homeless population but represent 3 percent of the entire population.
Those who qualify for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments include people who have experienced long-term homelessness for either a year or more, or four times in the past three years; those escaping domestic violence; elders and extended family — a recognition that American Indian families often have non-immediate relatives living with them; and the working poor, those who are at risk of losing housing or who are living in substandard housing.
The project, which will reach its capacity of about 70 people by the end of June, is the first of its kind in Duluth to use tax credits for historic preservation, AICHO representatives say, and has a long list of contributors.
Makes Room-Lussier has lived in Duluth since 1978 but is from Rosebud, S.D., where she is enrolled with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She said Monday she is grateful for those who helped create the space. The stability of the housing and the services offered will help her achieve her goal of re-enrolling in college to become a nurse.
“I feel safe,” she said. “I hope I can become a contributing member of the community; I want to be a positive role model for Native American women and children. It’s very difficult to be a single parent. … I am excited to see how they will help residents as far as getting life back on track, giving them skills so they won’t be homeless again, and helping you get a job and helping children with education. It’s the only way you can make it in this world.”
If you go
The American Indian Community Housing Organization hosts a grand opening of its 29-unit affordable supportive housing development in the former downtown YWCA at 1 p.m. Wednesday at 202 W. Second St.
A free feast of “Indian Tacos” made with fry bread and wild rice salads and tours will follow the program.
The program includes entertainment and recognition of donors, volunteers and community and tribal leaders.