Nonprofit explores campaign to save Kateri Residence

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center may take over Kateri Residence, which had been slated to close next summer in Whittier.

There is a chance that Kateri Residence, a transitional housing program focused on Native American women in recovery, won’t close this summer as planned.

St. Stephen’s Human Services previously announced a decision to close the apartment building at 2408 4th Ave. S., citing difficulties with funding and challenges treating chemical dependency. The decision prompted the resignation of board member Edward Murphy, who said closing should be a “very last resort.”

One Kateri resident who declined to provide her name said the decision to close in June of 2018 felt like short notice.

“It’s saved a lot of lives and families,” she said.

Women who are fighting addiction can live at Kateri and get their kids back, she said. Many women come to Kateri from reservations, she said, and don’t have many personal resources.

Now staff members at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) are interested in taking over the program.

“The work they are doing fits within our mission, so it’s definitely viable. It really is going to be a matter of whether the funds can be raised, and I think they can,” said Patina Park, MIWRC executive director. “I think there is enough people who don’t want to see that program go away and understand how vital it is. Because what it comes down to is that’s providing housing for people who may be homeless without it.”

MIWRC is a nonprofit based in the Phillips neighborhood and offers services including child advocacy and treatment for chemical dependency, mental health and trauma. The nonprofit currently offers 13 Section 8 vouchers to subsidize apartments for families with children.

Nancy Cerkvenik, a former Kateri staff member, said she could understand funding becoming a challenge for Kateri.

“I was a bit shocked, but I was not really all that surprised,” she said of the decision to close.

She said Kateri is unique in that it provides space for women to reunify with their kids.

“This is a way for the whole family to heal and become stable,” Cerkvenik said. “…There aren’t very many programs that help women with their kids.”

A nonprofit operated by St. Stephen’s Catholic Church opened Kateri in 1972, according to the City of Minneapolis, giving housing priority to Native American women who are pregnant, have small children, or are exiting treatment or corrections. The program incorporates Native American culture, featuring a morning meditation with sage burning, as well as talking circles and mentorship by community elders.

“Things have changed in 44 years,” said Gail Dorfman, executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services. “We’ve had a deficit for over a decade, but the gap was getting worse.”

The program costs about $650,000 annually to operate, and the current funding gap is about $300,000, she said. Federal funding priorities have shifted away from transitional housing, she said, and the program receives less money for chemical dependency programming and less from the state Department of Human Services. The building had been too crowded, she said, and a decision to house fewer people led to fewer funding dollars.

Even if funding came through, Dorfman said St. Stephen’s isn’t an agency focused on chemical dependency, and it’s become clear that Kateri needs a better treatment program.

“Our goal is not to lose this opportunity, but have it become something else that works better, that still serves the Native American community,” Dorfman said.

St. Stephen’s announced that it would stop taking new residents Dec. 1. Kateri currently houses about four single adults and five families in three apartment units, Dorfman said.

Park said existing housing resources aren’t always adequate for Native American families who may have experienced homelessness over multiple generations and are facing an opioid crisis.

She said Kateri’s success is hard to track, but given the challenges, any success is noteworthy. MIWRC has clients who live at Kateri, and Park said she’s seen them benefit from education on parenting and budgeting.

“As far as the community is concerned, the Kateri program is vital and has been successful,” she said.

She said MIWRC would continue discussing the program with St. Stephen’s after the holidays. The building needs at least $400,000 in repairs, Park said, including a roof replacement and plumbing work.

“It’s not 100 percent yet, but it seems doable,” she said. “We’ll just have to do some very intense fundraising at the beginning of the year.”