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'This will be their home': YWCA, West Fargo church partner on housing project

Architects rendering of the proposed YWCA Permanent Supportive housing complex that will be built on land owned by West Fargo's Lutheran Church of the Cross, just south of the church. Special to the Pioneer. 1 / 3
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WEST FARGO—The YWCA Cass Clay and West Fargo's Lutheran Church of the Cross, which share a mission of fostering a future for the less fortunate, are jointly building a housing complex on church-owned land for women and children who have been victims of domestic abuse.

In early 2016, the Rev. Joel Baranko, lead pastor at Lutheran Church of the Cross, was looking at uses for church-owned land behind the Furniture Mart complex, just south of the church at 1402 16th St. E.

Knowing area shelter space is scarce, Baranko reached out to YWCA Cass Clay CEO Erin Prochnow and found that the advocates for women and children escaping domestic violence were looking for additional space to expand its permanent supportive housing.

Now the two groups are planning a two-story housing complex containing 30 units of one-to -four bedrooms that will have room for 30 women and up to 45 children.

The YWCA's permanent supportive housing is not like its emergency shelter, which operates in Fargo as a place for women and children to turn in times of crisis for immediate shelter. Families in permanent supportive housing have taken the next step beyond a shelter, which limits stays to 45 days, and are rebuilding their lives while making a new home, Prochnow said.

"This would be very consistent to the mission of our congregation," Baranko said. "It was like God was putting together an opportunity for us, one that seemed to fit who we are as a church and who we want to be as a church."

A chance for choices

The complex will have enhanced security measures, with YWCA staff on site much of the time. The YWCA will offer residents services such as counseling and occupational guidance or even a little cheerleading.

"We want to provide an opportunity for self-determination and how to make choices on where they want to go in their future," Prochnow said. "We provide an opportunity to move forward. These women haven't been given the opportunity to think about what they want to do with their life."

There will be two offices for staff as well as a community room and space for a nurse.

"This will be their home," Prochnow said. "They can stay as long as they like, as long as they qualify and income qualify."

For the past six months, Baranko and Prochnow have been working together on the project, and while they say it is still in the development stage, they have made an effort to alert neighbors and the community to their plans.

Baranko said he stopped in to the seven homes with backyards that face the proposed complex, and the church and YWCA have hosted informational meetings for the congregation as well as the neighborhood.

So far, the neighbors' most common complaint has been that the complex will replace open green space. Some neighbors have asked for additional landscaping, which the church and the YWCA have already looked at adding.

A large area west of the facility will remain open for now. The church may add a playground in that area, and the sand courts and volleyball spaces there will stay, Baranko said.

The church will retain ownership of the land and lease it to the YWCA, which will fund the estimated $5.5 million construction costs with its building partner, Beyond Shelter. The Fargo-based Beyond Shelter, is a developer of affordable housing that has worked in and around the area since 1999 and on past projects with the YWCA.

Filling a need

The YWCA started nationally 110 years ago as a boarding house for women seeking higher education. It has been serving the metro area women and children, primarily those in domestic abuse situations, for about 40 years.

In 2015, when the YWCA finished its strategic planning, it realized it needed more housing after seeing 150 women applied last year for a program that could only accept 50.

"Everyone deserves a place to call home," Prochnow said.

The YWCA already leases or owns 32 units of supportive housing, a number that grew from just four units in the late 1980s.

Of those units, 16 are leased from the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"So we've had a partnership with churches already in place, which is why working with Church of the Cross makes so much sense," Prochnow said. "We know it works."

The average age of women the YWCA serves is 34, and many of the women come to the shelter homeless or facing homelessness. On average, the women make about $17,000 per year.

Lutheran Church of the Cross gained the roughly 100,000-square-foot piece of land in 2013 after the Catholic Holy Cross church moved out of the shared location and into its own parish south of Interstate 94.

Baranko said the church received some unsolicited retail and development offers for the property, but he was more interested in finding a purpose for the land that would suit the church. The congregation has been supportive of the proposed project, he said.

"They don't have anywhere else to go," Baranko said of the women who will live at the complex. "It's our vision as a church that we care for women, children and the vulnerable."

Police Chief Mike Reitan, who is supportive of the project, said this project is a need for women and children in West Fargo and across the metro.

"It provides critical housing for a special population of the community." Reitan said. "One of the things that a victim of domestic violence will frequently say to us as to why they cannot leave is because they don't have a home where they can go live. They don't have a safe environment where they can go, so they'd rather choose to live where they are at and be subjected to abuse than to be homeless or in a location that they don't feel safe."

Reitan said it would not increase crime or traffic in the neighborhood.

"Those staying at the facility are victims of abuse situations, not those responsible for any of the related crimes," Reitan said.

The chief said many of those who will live at the complex have specific orders from the court that provide a heightened level of protection. Those no-contact and protection orders allow officers to make on-site arrests of someone just by being in that area, too close to victims.

"Typically if you have that protection order or no-contact order, for the most part people obey those," Reitan said.

Reitan said the complex will be much more than a shelter for those who will make their home there. The YWCA provides programs to assist the people who will live there—from supportive care, counseling, life skills training, job placement and other family services.

"What I see is this will be that bridge between them being in an abusive relationship and being successful in the community," Reitan said. "This is the short-term solution they need to escape."

Ideal location

The project will also not need to add more parking spots for the complex. The church has additional parking space that is not being used since Holy Cross moved out of the location. Baranko said the city planners believe the additional unused parking spots could be used for the complex, which will be built on a parcel of land already zoned by the city of West Fargo to be used for such a purpose.

"It's going to be a great project," Mayor Rich Mattern said. "It's something that is needed in our community as a whole, and it's just fine that it will be in West Fargo."

The location, which is near to retail, grocery and bus stops, will be convenient for the women to work and shop, as many will not have vehicles.

"It is absolutely ideal to be able to go to work or school," Prochnow said.

Lutheran Church of the Cross and YWCA hope to start construction in 2018 and open by 2019. By then, the West Fargo School District will have opened its 14th elementary school about a block away in 2018.

West Fargo Schools Superintendent David Flowers said the school will have plenty of room for any additionals students the complex may house.

"I think [this project] is an asset to our community," Flowers said. "There is a need for this here and it will serve our community and those families well."

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and and at CBS Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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