Emma Norton seeks support for new housing site for homeless women

October 20, 2022
A rendering of the Restoring Waters development in St. Paul, which is slated to open its doors in early 2024.

By: Christa Meland

After 105 years of serving women in recovery and their families, Emma Norton Services is poised to debut a state-of-the-art housing development with a wide array of trauma support services—but it needs support from Minnesota United Methodists to make that dream into a reality. 

For the past 50 years, the organization has operated Emma Norton Residence, which provides dorm-style housing for 50 homeless women who have the added challenge of mental illness, chemical dependency, or both. But the aging building is filled to capacity, with no room for additional support services and no office for staff to meet and collaborate.  

Enter Restoring Waters, a new transformative housing site in the Highland Bridge development in St. Paul. Restoring Waters will house 60 individuals and small families and provide a full spectrum of holistic, compassionate, and culturally specific services to foster transformation. These buildings will incorporate the key tenets of trauma-informed design: dignity and independence for residents, safety and privacy, inviting spaces, and a sense of stability and security. They will also be the site of a new Emma Norton headquarters with ample space for staff to work as a team. 

Restoring Waters is being built in partnership with nonprofit housing developer Project for Pride in Living, Inc., Urbanworks Architecture, and Ryan Companies. In December 2020, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency announced the approval of $18 million in funding for the project. But Emma Norton must raise another $3 million to fully complete the project. 

The five-story building will include a gardening center, an art center, a play space for children of residents, a yoga/exercise room, a health clinic, a meditation/prayer room, and a rooftop deck. There will also be a storefront where women can “shop” for donated essentials. Each woman will have her own apartment, and unlike at Emma Norton Residence, babies and small children can also live there. 

“It’s a whole new iteration of Emma Norton and what we’re able to provide,” said Executive Director Tonya Brownlow. “The new building is about giving people a place to live that helps them in that full, long-term life recovery.” 

Construction on Restoring Waters will begin this fall, and the site is slated to open in early 2024. In addition to raising money for it and increased support services, the campaign will set aside $350,000 to increase Emma Norton’s reserves so that the organization can respond quickly to future needs that arise.

 Emma Norton is one of nearly 100 designated United Women in Faith (formerly United Methodist Women) national mission institutions throughout the country—and both United Women in Faith and The United Methodist Church as a whole have played a key role in supporting the organization since its inception in 1917. 

The organization is now asking for support from Minnesota United Methodists in bringing Restoring Waters to fruition. Of the $3 million Emma Norton must raise for this project, about half of which has yet to be pledged, Emma Norton is hopeful that $500,000 will come from members of the Minnesota Conference. Individuals are invited to make multi-year pledges between 2022 and 2024. 

Hamline Church, a longtime partner of Emma Norton, has pledged nearly $140,000 for Restoring Waters in the form of a lead gift. The Church Council challenged the congregation to contribute $50,000 by pledging a $50,000 match—but members exceeded that goal and have given $90,000. 

Rev. Mariah Furness Tollgaard said Hamline Church has a strong commitment to care for and serve its neighbors in St. Paul and beyond, and working with Emma Norton is one way in which it fulfills that commitment. From hosting events and annual holiday gift drives to donating proceeds from the Hamline Church Dining Hall at the Minnesota State Fair to building a playground at another Emma Norton housing development, the congregation has supported Emma Norton in a variety of ways over the years. 

“I think all of us as United Methodists should be incredibly proud to be affiliated with Emma Norton,” said Tollgaard. “They are a leader in providing transformational housing for women and families. The services and support they offer through their ‘Sanctuary Model’ of trauma-informed care is cutting edge and effective. Their values strongly align with ours, as they are rooted in radical compassion, acceptance, and healing in order to restore and strengthen individuals, families, and communities.” 

Restoring Waters is about creating brighter tomorrows for women and families. But Brownlow’s ultimate goal is much bigger than that: “We’d love to end homelessness in our communities,” she said.

For Tollgaard, supporting this project is about living out our faith.  

“To me, Restoring Waters’ model for healing and wholeness in community perfectly aligns with God’s desire for beloved community, and we are called to do our part as community members to bring this vision into being,” she said. “I hope other United Methodists in Minnesota will want to join in with their support as well.” 

Resources: Restoring Waters at a glance / Full campaign goals and details / Video to share with your churchPledge card 

To learn more, access additional Restoring Waters Campaign information and resources, or to book a speaker for your next gathering, please contact Emma Norton Advancement Director Shawna Nelsen-Wills at 651-251-2632 or snelsen@emmanorton.org.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.


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