Jana Bonner, who once made $100,000-plus from her business-marketing and event-planning jobs, is thankful this holiday season for the new apartment building into which she and 43 other formerly homeless folks moved recently at E. Lake St. and 30th Av.
Minnehaha Commons, affordable housing for the formerly homeless over age 55, was built on land made vacant by a 2010 fire that burned down the former Poodle Club, killing six staying in apartments upstairs.
“I am very grateful,” said Bonner, 57, daughter of a Northwest Airlines pilot who grew up in west Bloomington.
After college in Texas, Bonner worked for the likes of IBM, an event-management firm and her own company.
Bonner was divorced and raising two children in Austin, Texas, and self-employed since 2003. She was hit in 2015 with a congenital spinal disease that required surgeries, bankrupting her after she lost her health insurance, and leading her to return to the Twin Cities in 2017.
She lived on $200 a month in public assistance, staying intermittently at the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center shelter downtown.
Bonner’s plan to live with a high school girlfriend fell through after the woman’s husband was stricken with brain cancer.
“I feel human again,” said Bonner, who uses a walker. “I have a clean place at Minnehaha Commons. I can cook meals again. I don’t have a curfew. I don’t have to worry about my things being stolen or people going through my things. I’ve been working so hard to get to this point. With my [bad] credit background, I didn’t know how I would get housed. But I never stopped knocking on doors or asking for help.
“It’s been a tough few years. I never would have imagined that I would find myself in this situation. I used to make more than $100,000 a year — events and trade shows for high-tech companies. I never thought I would find myself without health insurance. I became vulnerable when I was working on my own. You’re subject to whatever insurance is available. I had Humana. They dropped me. I couldn’t re-enroll.”
Texas declined to expand subsidized Medicaid to the working poor, who had no other option, to buy in.
Bonner and her husband divorced years ago and he moved to another career in Las Vegas. She raised two children, saved for college educations and worked independently until disease struck. She declared bankruptcy after spending more than $150,000, her remaining savings, on medical-related expenses.
The move to the Twin Cities in 2017 allowed her to qualify for Medicaid, and get health care at Hennepin Health. She also has qualified for about $700 a month in Social Security disability monthly payments.
The $10 million-plus Minnehaha Commons project was financed by private and public sources, including the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of Des Moines; Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Hennepin County, Minneapolis, Thrivent Financial and others. Rents for the 44 small apartments run $500 to $692 a month. But no resident is required to pay more than 30% of income, thanks to federal and state housing subsidies.
“By creating more developments like Minnehaha Commons, we will make progress in providing the housing needed to end homelessness for seniors and veterans,” said Minnesota Housing Director Jennifer Ho.
The residents are disproportionately veterans and other seniors with physical and mental health troubles. The building, equipped with handicapped-accessible bathrooms, a community room, community kitchen and laundry, is staffed by Touchstone Mental Health and has a 24-hour front desk manager.
Bonner is long past grieving the life and luxuries she once had.
“I have had all these opportunities to help me figure it out medically,” Bonner said. “It’s a world of difference.
“Being in my own place means I’m safe. I can’t work conventions anymore. But I have computer skills. I have the time and energy to work and support myself and volunteer. I’ve helped write résumés. It feels good to help people who have been homeless and who don’t have the computer skills or job experience or other advantages I have had. I’m just so grateful for what I have today.”
Homelessness, particularly among those 55 and over, continues to rise in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, according to Wilder Research.
Just last week, Hennepin County, Catholic Charities, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and other partners announced a $65 million redevelopment of a former nursing home in Elliot Park for 100 medically needy homeless adults. Officials recently told the Star Tribune Editorial Board that they have identified 3,100 low-income folks in Hennepin County for whom housing instability threatens health and safety.
Homelessness doubled between 2015 and 2018, according to Tim Marx, chief executive of Catholic Charities. He adds that homelessness is growing fastest among adults 55 and older.
Affordable housing developers such as Alliance, PPL, Aeon and CommonBond are working to increase the housing supply, with public and private partners. Minneapolis and St. Paul have lost thousands of low-cost units to demolition for commercial developments or upscale overhauls of existing properties. And wages for the working class have not kept pace with the cost of rent or health care over the last 30-plus years.
Take joy that it’s a better holiday season for folks at Minnehaha Commons. And the temple stands unfinished until all are housed in dignity.