Steve O'Neil Apartments: groundbreaking ceremony

By KBJR News 1

December 11, 2013 Updated Dec 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Tuesday, in honor of late Commissioner Steve O'Neil a community celebration and groundbreaking was held.

The event included a renaming ceremony for the new Emergency Family Shelter and Hillside Apartments in Duluth that will bear O'Neil's name.

"The biggest challenge facing our community today, and it's almost becoming a crisis is the housing," said Duluth Mayor, Don Ness.

The Minnesota Equity Fund and UnitedHealth Group have invested $9.8 million dollars in the Steve O'Neil Apartment project, with the hopes of improving the housing problem in Duluth.

"He had committed his life to ending homelessness," said Rick Klun, executive director at Center City Housing in Duluth.

The project that will bear O'Neil's name will provide 44 permanent supportive housing units as well as six emergency shelter units for long term homeless families.

"What makes me happiest about it is knowing that probably, I don't know, 100-150 children will be safe and warm and secure every night," said Lee Stuart, executive director at CHUM.

Mayor Don Ness said that throughout the day's events he couldn't help but to continuously look away from the crowd, expecting to see Steve standing in the corner, arms folded, with a smile on his face.

"It's that Steve O'Neil smile that we all love so much, and he is loving this," said Mayor Ness.

The emergency family shelter will be operated by CHUM and they will also provide supportive services to those living in the facility.

And those involved in the project feel it's a fitting tribute to the life's work of the late commissioner.

"He's the best person I've ever known... period. And there could not be a naming that could be more appropriate," said Klun.

And close friend and colleague of Commissioner O'Neil, Frank Jewel, feels the same way.

He says that O'Neil would welcome everyone and anyone into his office, just to talk to them with the hopes of making their day just a little bit brighter.

"It would be homeless people... it would be people who are mentally ill and he would just invite them in, and sometime they'd just sit in his office," said Jewel.

...all in an effort to keep Commissioner O'Neil's legacy alive.

The Apartments will be available about 12 months after construction begins, and will be built on the northwest corner of Fourth Street and First Avenue West.

Elsa Robins