Emma’s Place in Maplewood makes a difference

Emma’s Place, located on Van Dyke Street in Maplewood, was opened in 2002 and offers permanent townhouse-style homes and support services for single parent families with three or more children. Emma Norton Services, which runs Emma’s Place and works to end homelessness for women and families, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Aundrea Kinney photo/Review

The townhouses at Emma’s Place all include two bathrooms, a washer and dryer, kitchen and living spaces, in addition to varying numbers of bedrooms. Aundrea Kinney photo/Review

Emma Norton Services celebrates a century of fighting homelessnes.


When Angelique Williams and her six children fled domestic violence in Iowa, they came to Minnesota to be closer to her mother, but Williams couldn’t make enough money on her own to support her family. 

Emma’s Place, which provides permanent housing in Maplewood for homeless families, helped her rebuild her life and eventually find a rental house on the East Side of St. Paul for her family.

Emma’s Place is one of two transitional residence programs that are part of the greater nonprofit, Emma Norton Services, which is celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year.


Emma Norton’s history

Since 1917, Emma Norton Services has worked to house people based on changing community needs. It has housed collegiate and professional women, deaf students and families of those undergoing long-term recovery at nearby hospitals. 

The organization is named after Emma Hayes Norton, a woman from Winona who in 1921 donated $25,000 worth of stocks and bonds to the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which created what’s known as Emma Norton Services, today.

In 1991, the nonprofit turned its attention to homeless women and families who are dealing with the effects of mental illness and chemical dependency.

Emma Norton Residence, the nonprofit’s building on Robert Street in St. Paul, has been owned by the Emma Norton Services since 1967. It is a four-story, dormitory-style residence for single women to transition from homelessness to permanent housing and work toward achieving mental and chemical health.

Emma Norton Residence houses 50 women and provides three meals a day, as well as various group and individual support services such as educational or leadership classes, and social or spiritual groups. Residents also partner with a case manager to help them move toward independence, self-sufficiency and personal goals.

Emma’s Place, located on Van Dyke Street in Maplewood, was opened in 2002 and offers permanent townhouse-style homes to single parent families with three or more children. Emma’s Place houses 13 families and offers similar support services that are offered at Emma Norton Residence, with the addition of a shared playground and afterschool programs for children. Meals are not provided at Emma’s Place like they are at Emma Norton Residence.


Angelique’s story

“I had a great experience,” Williams said of her time living at Emma’s Place.

When Williams arrived in Minnesota, she first found shelter with Women’s Advocates, a St. Paul shelter for women and children escaping domestic abuse. Her family lived at the shelter for a year, while they worked their way to the top of a waiting list for a more long-term housing situation in the Twin Cities area. 

Emma’s Place became their next home.

Tonya Brownlow, executive director at Emma Norton Services, explained that every region has one common entry point into the system, which takes the responsibility of navigating housing options off the homeless person and onto the providers in the system.

“It used to be that a person would have to go to every single housing program and get their name on numerous waiting lists, and that meant you also didn’t get a good match between different types of homeless programs,” Brownlow explained.

Now families and individuals get screened and put on certain tracks to obtain services that are a better match to their needs.

Williams said that while living at Emma’s Place, she was able to take various classes on site — such as a budgeting class she found especially helpful — and staff worked with her to find the resources she needed to reach her goals, like obtaining her own vehicle.

Williams explained that the staff at Emma’s Place asked residents what burdens were holding them back from seeking housing elsewhere and helped provide classes and resources to address those setbacks. She remembered that some common concerns residents shared were about childcare, transportation and overcoming a record of past evictions.

Brownlow explained that the support services offered by Emma Norton Services are important because they help people who have been homeless overcome the trauma that lingers, even after housing is attained.

Williams said that although staff helped her find her own housing for her family, she never felt pushed out of her home at Emma’s Place. According to Brownlow, most families live at Emma’s Place for two to four years.

Williams explained that when she felt stable enough to move away from Emma’s Place, her case worker helped her find and rent a comfortable house for her family.

Then, even after she moved away, staff at Emma’s Place continue looking out for her and even helped her find a new school for her children after T.R.U.T.H. Preparatory Academy unexpectedly closed earlier this year.

Her kids are still involved in the after school program at Emma’s Place, she still receives weekly emails with the events that are going on, and she is welcome to continue to be part of the community.

“Whatever they’re doing, I’m part of it,” Williams said.


Addressing the need

This year, through a grant from the United Way, Emma Norton Services was able to launch a new program to further help families and individuals find permanent housing on their own.

“If a family moves into [Emma’s Place] they get a Section 8 Certificate. If they live there for 12 months, they can port it out into the community, which means they don’t have to live here. They can find a landlord anywhere in the community that accepts Section 8 and move into housing on their own,” Brownlow explained.

Because of this new program, Emma’s Place is able to provide support services to the usual 13 families in the townhomes on site, as well as several families living elsewhere in the surrounding community — this year there are six families. Because Emma’s Place offers more than just housing, these folks still get a case worker to help them stay on track with their goals. 

However, Brownlow noted that families have struggled using their Section 8 Certificate in the suburbs because landlords can get more money if they rent out houses and apartments to other people who can afford to pay market rates. 

“Somebody working minimum wage for 40 hours a week, even at a substantial minimum wage like we have — if they need housing for three kids in a family or six kids in a family, they are going to need to work two minimum wage jobs to be able to afford an apartment on their own,” Brownlow said.

She explained that there are not many vacant apartments or houses for rent in the suburbs, but the demand for housing is high. This drives the prices up making the cost of housing unattainable for some people. In addition, many who would prefer to remain close to Emma’s Place end up moving closer to St. Paul because that is where they are able to find affordable housing.

Williams explained that although staff from Emma’s Place made the process easy, she did visit many rental houses before finding the right one. She said she needed to find a house where her family could live comfortably and not feel like they had to move again in a year.

“Why it’s important to have a program like [Emma Norton Services] is so that we do have affordable housing in our communities,” Brownlow said.


To learn more about Emma Norton Services, visit www.emmanorton.org.

Emma Norton Services hosts annual Voices for Victory fundraiser:

Voices for Victory, an annual fundraiser organized by Emma Norton, is Oct. 12 at the Mendakota Country Club. Emma Norton will host local business leaders and supporters to celebrate its work of ending homelessness for women and families experiencing mental illness and chemical dependency in the community. 

The event will feature personal stories from residents, and showcase the impact Emma Norton has had on them and the community over the last 100 years. The Schultz Family Foundation will be matching funds raised up to $42,000. 

Funds raised through Voices for Victory are used to support Emma Norton’s mission to end homelessness by providing transformational housing and support services to homeless women, children and families. 

The Voices for Victory reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the program beginning at 6:30 p.m. Mendakota Country Club is located at 2075 Mendakota Dr, Mendota Heights. Tickets are $100 per person or $1,000 for a table of eight. To purchase tickets, go to www.emmanorton.org. 


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.


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