St. Paul losing drop-in center for mentally ill

  • Article by: TONY WAGNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2013 - 9:39 PM

The Apollo facility that serves about 30 people daily will close May 1.

For nearly 40 years, St. Paul’s Apollo Resource Center provided counseling, classes and community to mentally ill people on a drop-in basis. On May 1, Apollo, the only center of its kind in Ramsey County, will close.

Drop-in centers “have been a place for people with mental health issues to congregate,” said Tim Burkett, CEO of People Incorporated, which runs the center. “To give each other ­support, to develop trust, to develop confidence and to learn how to ­manage their time during the day.”

Ramsey County has cut the ­center’s funding by $300,000 — half of its budget, Burkett said. After the closure, People Incorporated will use the center’s remaining state funding for independent living skills training in the homes of mentally ill adults. Burkett said he did not yet know how many staff members would be laid off, if any.

Burkett said he was not surprised by the loss in funding, because the benefits of a drop-in center are more difficult to quantify than other mental health services such as vocational training, counseling and health care.

“With a drop-in center it’s a little more nebulous,” he said

The diverted funds will be used to bolster the county’s supported employment program, which ­provides services to help adults with mental disabilities find and keep jobs, according to Kirk Fowler, adult ­mental health and chemical dependency manager for Ramsey County.

The Apollo center closure is the first step in a larger reassessment of the county’s community support services, and Fowler said the county will likely continue restructuring in order to better ­provide employment help.

Fowler said Apollo center clients can go to the county’s mental health and welcome center on University Avenue, where they can be assigned case managers and participate in groups similar to those at Apollo.

“I think there are some other options,” he said. “I don’t think all options are going to replace the Apollo center for some of those clients … but we hope to provide a wide array of services so that a larger number of clients can also take advantage of the resources we have.”

Lynne Nerenberg, 62, has been taking classes at the ­center for six years. Nerenberg, who has schizophrenia, lives in Dale Street Place, which provides housing for the mentally ill above the center. Nerenberg said she appreciated the center’s calm ­atmosphere.

She said she would especially miss participating in People Incorporated’s Artability program though the center. The program is a series of summer workshops for the mentally ill that culminates in an art show and a written anthology. Nerenberg has won two prizes for her memoir writing at ­Artability.

“There aren’t really places that match [Apollo] for the niche that I’m in and that a lot of the people there are in,” she said.

The Apollo Center opened in 1974 and is one of People Incorporated’s oldest programs, Burkett said. It serves about 30 people a day.

There are seven drop-in centers in Hennepin County, according to the Human Services and Public Health Department. Fowler said the two counties have different needs and approaches to community support.

Shelly Clater started going to the Apollo center in 2000 after receiving a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Now she is a frequent volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, organizing projects, registering voters and talking with legislators about issues facing the mentally ill.

Clater said while she is in favor of more ­supportive employment services, Ramsey County is losing an essential component to treating mental illness.

“They’re going to lose the socialization piece,” she said. “That’s the thing that pulled me out from where I was … that’s all I could handle at that time. It was the bridge back.”

 

Anthony Wagner is a University of Minnesota student journalist on assignment for the Star Tribune.

 

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