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Homeless no more

After the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, CHUM Executive Director Lee Stuart gestures for people to head back into the building for more festivities. Holding the ribbon is Angie Miller, widow of Steve O'Neil, and newly moved-in resident Cherrie Jackson. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)1 / 3
With a painting of Steve O'Neil in the background, resident LeQuita Conley sits in the lobby with her children Nigel, 3 months, Laila, 3, and Nathaniel, 1. With her is Jennifer Dalbec of D.W. Jones, the property management company. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 3
Paul Wisnieski and his daughter Aniyah, 2, listen to dignitaries speak about the process of building the apartments for the homeless. Wisnieski said his wife and daughter already live in the building and he will soon join them. "The stress of homelessness caused our family to break apart," he told the Budgeteer. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 3

Hundreds gathered for the grand opening of Steve O'Neil Apartments Feb. 3. Just as many people stood on the other side of the ribbon, spilling out onto the street. They shouted out a countdown, "Ten, nine, eight ..." as they recorded the moment with cellphones and cameras.

The new building a welcomes families and children to the 44-unit, $12.8 million permanent supportive housing community and emergency family shelter. UnitedHealth Group was the largest investor in the project, providing $10.5 million.

The apartment holds the name of the longtime St. Louis County commissioner, who died in 2013 at the age of 63 after battling cancer.

"He's here," said Eckes, a Benedictine nun. "Steve is here blessing this whole beautiful dream."

The succession of dignitaries spoke about overcoming problems such as dry-cleaning fluid that polluted the ground and rehabilitating a derelict block that once featured a drug den masked as a candy store.

By the time O'Neil's widow, Angie Miller, spoke, few eyes in the house were dry.

"Dreams really do come true," Miller said.

Miller called it a place for families that have experienced "lifetimes of hardship, crisis, disaster and injustice." There are 23 units filled; the others are set to be occupied by the end of the month.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at www.DuluthDailyPhoto.com.

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