WEST FARGO — Homes are the answer to homelessness.
That simple idea was the guiding principle behind the creation of Grace Garden in West Fargo, a new supportive housing project made possible by YWCA Cass Clay and a group of partner organizations, according to Erin Prochnow, CEO of YWCA Cass Clay.
Tuesday, Aug. 13, marks Grace Garden's official grand opening and ribbon cutting. The 30-unit complex is expected to be fully operational by the end of summer, according to Prochnow, who added that the $7.1 million initiative will offer affordable homes to an estimated 75 people, "providing individuals and families a place to call home."
Prochnow said the YWCA's board of directors decided about four years ago that they wanted to double the size of the agency's supportive housing units, which back then numbered about 19.
By the end of this year, she said, the agency expects to have 70 supportive housing units in Cass County.
One of the sparks for Grace Garden occurred a few years ago when Pastor Joel Baranko of the Lutheran Church of the Cross in West Fargo approached Prochnow about a parcel of land the church owned adjacent to the church.
The YWCA and church members decided the property at 1480 16th St. E. would become the site of Grace Garden and the YWCA entered into a 65-year lease with Lutheran Church of the Cross.
Baranko said the church could have sold the land for a tidy sum, but he said that would have run counter to their mission.
"We have a higher calling to love people," he said, adding that by opening the resource to help people, the church can make a positive impact on the lives of many in the community.
Prochnow said other organizations that have helped make Grace Garden happen include: Gate City Bank; the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency; the North Dakota Department of Commerce; the Housing Authority of Cass County; the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation; Beyond Shelter, Inc.; Shultz & Associates Architects; as well as neighbors of Grace Garden and "kind and caring donors."
Gate City Bank's support included a pledge of $1.5 million to help fund the project's startup costs and to support program services over the first decade.
According to Prochnow, one thing that helps people achieve long-term independence is a sense of stability, and she said supportive housing contributes to that.
"People want stability and to put down roots," she said, though adding that some community members can have a difficult time understanding the challenges other people face.
She said a relative recently asked her whether programs like supportive housing are actually counterproductive, asserting that such efforts could make individuals dependent on the system rather than on their own effort.
"What I said to him is: 'You were fortunate and I was fortunate to live in a household where our parents loved us and taught us how to be good citizens,''' Prochnow said, recalling the conversation.
"A great majority of those we serve have not had an opportunity to live in a home that was safe," Prochnow added, stating she also told her relative, "We were loved and cared for and told that we matter. We're the fortunate ones."
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Prochnow said she isn't sure such answers resonate with everyone, but she said she knows firsthand that the families the YWCA serves are yearning for a chance to stand on their own two feet.
"I've never had a conversation with a woman who wants to live in our shelter. She wants what we all want — to provide for their families and live life independently and see their children grow and thrive out in the community," Prochnow said.
"Women and children we serve absolutely don't want to be there and are ashamed and embarrassed to be in that situation," Prochnow added.
Thomas Hill, vice president of community impact for the United Way of Cass Clay, said many homeless individuals experienced trauma early in life, which he said can make it difficult to navigate the world in conventional ways.
"One in three (homeless individuals) had a parent or guardian who struggled with mental health; one in three were beaten as a child; half lived with a substance abuser. To then say, 'Why don't you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps?' Well, they're doing what they were taught to do. It's generational," Hill said.
On Monday, Aug. 12, Alejandra Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA, visited Grace Garden and toured the building with Prochnow and Laura Carley, president of YWCA Cass Clay.
As they took a peek inside a three-bedroom apartment that will soon be the new home of a mom, her two boys and one girl, Carley read the note on a "welcome" basket of practical items left for the family by members of the nearby Lutheran Church of the Cross.
"We're so glad you're here, our doors are always open," read the note, which brought tears to Carley.
"This is America," Castillo said of the church's gesture, adding that what binds the country together are acts of giving.
Prochnow agreed, adding that although she sees many difficult things with her job, it also offers her a front-row seat to the good things people do.
"I get to see the best of what comes with community," Prochnow said.
Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for 10 a.m. at Grace Garden, 1480 16th St. E., West Fargo.