Maternity homes coming back, including Minnesota facility

By Marie Tolonen, Mesabi Tribune

Pregnant, homeless and faced with limited options, Krista found the help she needed at Star of the North Maternity Home in Duluth, and the experience has changed her life.

The 38-year-old (who only gave her first name) said she was in the hospital being checked over after a domestic violence incident when she learned she was three months pregnant and that she was grateful to be accepted into the program at a facility created for just such situations.

With multiple locks, security cameras and someone around at all times, Krista said she felt safe there. Her basic needs of security, food, shelter and clothing were met, allowing her to focus on her pregnancy and eventually deliver a healthy baby girl.

“It gave me a solid foundation to bond with my newborn and give her a good start in life and gain confidence and love to do the same for myself,” Krista said.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

After graduating from the program, Krista accepted an overnight staff position at Star of the North and has since then completed an internship as part of the requirements to obtain an Associate of Arts degree.

Krista is now raising her daughter while working and attending college in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in social work.

When asked about what the program at the maternity house provided her, Krista said it was being held accountable.

“Accountability was my biggest one — I needed that,” she said.

Dr. Susan McClernan, the director of Star of the North Maternity Home, said maternity homes once assisted women in the 60s and 70s and provide a home-like environment for expectant mothers and mothers with infants. They’re making a comeback with 300 homes now in existence nationwide.

Star of the North is a nonprofit operating under the umbrella of the nonprofit Together for Life Northland. It accepted its first resident in June 2019 and has since experienced more than 80 applicants in the past two and a half years of existence. The facility serves women 21 and older who live in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

“We just had our 18th mom move in this week,” McClernan said.

Star of the North Maternity Home is a program, and not a homeless shelter. Expecting women and women with infants are allowed to stay there for up to 18 months. The women typically give birth at a medical facility off-site and stay at the home while expecting or after delivery. Some of the women choose to parent their baby, while others opt for adoption.

Upon entering the Maternity Home, the women are asked to commit to participating in support programs offered at the home through local agency partners that provide opportunities to learn life skills, including parenting, how to move forward in education and job search.

“We strive to help you have a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby and achieve your life plan,” as stated on the website for Star of the North.

Star of the North partners with a variety of community organizations to meet the needs of moms and their babies, including pregnancy counseling and referrals to county social services and medical assistance programs. The nonprofit also brings in services that are not provided in the community.

The staff at Star of the North helps the women keep a weekly calendar to keep track of their schedule and appointments. Child care and transportation to medical and dental appointments is also provided.

Cathy Timmerman of Hibbing said she’s long felt there was a need for a program to serve homeless pregnant women closer to home, on the Iron Range, and after touring the facility in Duluth, she reached out to McClernan to inquire about expanding a residence to the Iron Range area.

Timmerman commended McClernan for the accomplishments that Star of the North has made to help pregnant women and their babies.

“What a wonderful job she’s doing, and she’s a top-line director, and we wanted to be affiliated with them,” Timmerman said.

A six-month-long process including a feasibility study and needs assessment has been completed on a proposed expansion in Hibbing and has been presented to the interested parties.

St. Louis County Social Services was contacted as part of the process, and of 102 people on a housing waiting list in the northeast portion of the county, there were seven pregnant women, McClernan said. Other agencies providing transitional housing in the area revealed they also experienced pregnant women in their numbers, she said.

Those figures do not include women who are “couch hopping” and in need of stable housing.

“So there is a significant need,” McClernan said.

There has also been financial support for the proposed project.

“Cathy and her team have raised over $70,000 as an initial start,” McClernan noted.

Timmerman said a grant from an anonymous donor is included in the funds raised to be used to cover start-up costs. A goal of $100,000 is set for the start-up of the proposed project referred to as Star of the North Iron Range.