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Supportive Housing Complex Offers New Beginnings

Soromundi Commons Project In Hartford Is Starting To Fill Up

July 27, 2005

Catherine Sziabowski Ringquist has endured battles with drug and alcohol addiction and life in homeless shelters and transitional housing. But having been clean and sober for three years, she's ready for a new beginning in a home of her own at the YWCA of Greater Hartford's new Soromundi Commons supportive housing complex.

Ringquist, 49, who has been widowed twice, will be one of the first residents at the complex when she moves into one of its 35 furnished one-bedroom apartments today.

"It took a while for me to believe that if I do the right thing in life, I will be rewarded," Ringquist said. But now she can almost taste the turkey, and Polish food such as pierogi and golabki she'll cook when she invites her family for holidays in her new apartment, with its wide windows and stunning city views. She can't wait to bake cookies with her 7-year-old granddaughter, Caitlin Elise Cruz, and to decorate the apartment's bright white walls with a colorful Spanish fan and baby pictures of her children and grandchildren.

At a dedication of the housing complex Tuesday, Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez said it meshed well with his 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness in Hartford.

"Homelessness is a problem that must be addressed one individual at a time," said Deborah Ullman, executive director of the YWCA of Greater Hartford. "Each person has their own story and history that must be dealt with on an individual basis for their recovery."

Soromundi Commons - Soromundi means "sisters of the world" - was created through a partnership of the YWCA of Greater Hartford and the Chrysalis Center of Connecticut after a yearlong renovation of the YWCA's old housing at 135 Broad St. in Hartford. It is the first project to be completed in the Connecticut Supportive Housing PILOTS Initiative, a statewide effort involving many agencies to create affordable housing and support services for people facing homelessness, often due to problems such as mental illness or substance abuse.

The housing complex in Hartford has a 23-bed emergency shelter for women; 13 efficiency apartments for single men or women making the transition from homelessness, or treatment for mental illness or substance abuse; and 35 one-bedroom apartments for low-income individuals at risk of becoming homeless. All the apartments are expected to be filled by late August with individuals on state housing waiting lists who meet low-income guidelines and undergo an interview and background check.

The total development cost of Soromundi Commons was $9.5 million, with a mix of public and private funding: It includes a $4.3 million loan from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority; $4.1 million from the sale of low-income housing tax credits to the Enterprise Social Investment Corp.; $950,000 for support of the women's shelter from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving; state Department of Social Services bond funds and city of Hartford community development block grants; and additional funds for services from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and other agencies.

Ringquist said she plans to take advantage of the many services provided by the Chrysalis Center, such as job and life skills training. She will attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the community learning center, where she will also sharpen her keyboarding and Internet skills on its eight computers and begin taking classes toward her goal of earning a GED.

Pauline Santos Echols, 29, a former resident of the YWCA housing before the renovation began, said the new supportive housing complex "looks amazing," from its larger apartments and double-occupancy shelter rooms to the modern lobby, laundry and 24-hour security monitors.

Life has moved fast for Echols over the past few years as she's dealt with domestic violence in a previous relationship, married and separated and gave birth to her son Winston, now 1 - while working full time as a manager at a fast food restaurant.

Echols said she is looking forward to signing her lease for a one-bedroom apartment at Soromundi Commons, where she will be moving soon with Winston. She hopes it will be a steppingstone to one day owning her own home.

"This will give me an opportunity to get my life together while living in decent, affordable housing," she said. "It's tough out there, paying for rent, day care, Pampers, and clothes, even for people with full-time jobs."

For information about Soromundi Commons, call 860-727-8094. For information about the shelter, call the same number and ask for ext. 20.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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