A longtime Des Moines nonprofit has opened a new facility aimed at housing women in recovery who need ongoing support, services, safety and community.

The Beacon, which offers a variety of programs including counseling, career development and educational classes for women in crisis, recently launched The Beacon Village in Highland Park on Des Moines’ north side. The 32-unit building comes as the nonprofit recognizes that consistent access to resources is crucial for people coming out of prison and dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues as they try to navigate daily life.

“If you don’t treat people with dignity, they can’t heal,” Executive Director Melissa Vine said of her organization’s overall mission as she gave the Des Moines Register a tour of the new facility. “Dignity is what lets you know that you have value. (It’s) not based on your background. It’s not based on what happened to you, or what you’ve done as a result of what happened to you.”

“It’s just based on the fact that you have an unchangeable intrinsic value, simply because you’re human. And we all have that same value.”

Vine and staff joined FuseDSM members last month for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of The Village, a vacant motel on the city’s North Side that was converted into 32 efficiency units and now houses more than 20 women. The building’s units, which vary in size and rent, are one-room apartments with a small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room.

Why open The Beacon Village?

According to Vine, the idea for the village came when she and her staff saw that women who had completed their programs were still struggling to find their feet when they returned to their communities.

The Beacon, she said, provides a sober-living home in Sherman Hill for women in central Iowa who have recently been arrested and are facing potential charges. Rather than “sitting in jail” with no place to go, Vine said the 34-bed home, equipped with trained trauma-informed staff, is a viable option for those seeking support and access to resources.

Time spent in prison can result in the loss of your home, job, personal belongings and children, she said. “Even if you haven’t been convicted of a crime, how do you get your life back on track?”

While The Beacon’s Sherman Hill program has high success rates, Vine said she and her staff saw a need to step up their efforts for graduates who still face barriers. The city’s lack of affordable housing made it difficult for participants to stay sober and find a decent place to live. And those who did fall within their means were in areas where they felt unsafe or too far removed from the safety net they’d built through the organization, she explained.

“What happens is they fall back into old patterns or they find a place but they feel very alone. They went from having a huge support network to ‘I live alone now,’” she said.

That’s where The Beacon Village comes in. The additional sober-living home at 1348 E. Euclid Ave. in Des Moines is designed as an extra stepping stone for program participants who need more help. It’s a “good landing spot” for women who want to “solidify” their recovery and work toward financial stability, Vine said.

“There’s no pressure, you know,” she said. “People can stay here as long as they want, and for some, this can be their forever home.”

What is it like to live in The Beacon Village?

The Beacon Village, formerly known as The Village Inn Motel, offers a total of 32 efficiency units, with apartments ranging from 2,500 square feet to 4,800 square feet. The nonprofit currently leases the once-vacant building from Spire Construction, which has completed renovations, Vine said. Beacon leaders plan to purchase the property later to expand services, she said.

The units have a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom and monthly rent averages $625. That includes utilities, Wi-Fi and laundry.

The all-inclusive rent is a “good way” for tenants to “transition to more responsibility,” Vine said. At the Village, she added, women have more autonomy than they do at the sober-living house in Sherman Hill.

At the beginning of the tour, Vine stood in the middle of a room near the office of lead case manager Alexandria Atal. This space is intended as a meeting place for residents and staff, and large, comfortable couches take up a corner of the room. Tables with seating for large groups are scattered throughout.

Life-size portraits donated by Des Moines artist Mary Kline-Misol hang on the walls. A bookshelf leans against another, with a sign asking for donations for board games.

Outside the community room, near Atal’s office, sits Hana Boccella’s desk. Boccella, an office administrator, is one of the Beacon program graduates who is now helping others begin their recovery journeys. A table near the building’s entrance holds flyers, pamphlets and other handouts.

Vine shared that there are other amenities close to The Beacon Village, including a supermarket, local bank and bus stops.

At The Beacon, women are given ‘the first chance they never had’

Applications to stay at The Beacon’s sober-living home in Sherman Hill or the village are available online at thebeacondm.org. Referrals from community members and partners are also welcome, Vine said.

Those interested in volunteering or donating can also visit the nonprofit’s website for more information.

Vine told the Register that the women who come to The Beacon are smart, kind and resourceful and want a chance to change their lives. They are survivors of domestic violence or child sexual abuse, have experienced poverty or have cycled in and out of homelessness, the courts or prisons.

“We don’t give women second chances,” she said. “We give them the first chance they never had.”

F. Amanda Tugade covers social justice issues for the Des Moines Register. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @writefelissa.