Mental health resources dwindle as the APOLLO Resource Center closes its doors

Funding cuts hit Minnesota's long-standing drop-in center

Clients talk about the APOLLO center as if it's a life preserver keeping them from drowning in isolation. Some fear inpatient hospitalization or adult foster care will be their only alternative once the center closes.

Says Clater: "We have no backup plan."

Lynne Nerenberg is a regular at the APOLLO, one of a few dozen who inhabit the center every weekday, frequently for up to eight hours.

Darren Beckom has been clean for 11 months, but worries what will happen when the APOLLO center closes
Jayme Halbritter
Darren Beckom has been clean for 11 months, but worries what will happen when the APOLLO center closes

A bespectacled 62-year-old with dark, thin hair, Nerenberg suffers from schizophrenia. Before finding the APOLLO seven years ago, she was in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, lost and unwilling to cope with her illness.

"They definitely helped me stay on medication," Nerenberg says. "I was afraid of the stigma and paranoid of the effects of the medication ... and they helped me work through it so I could stay on medication and improve."

A native of St. Paul, Nerenberg was diagnosed with schizophrenia late in life. She attended Macalester College in the '70s, and after earning a B.A. in political science, took jobs freelancing for newspapers around the Twin Cities, including the St. Paul Dispatch and the Entertainer (which would later be rebranded as the Twin Cities Reader).

By the mid-'80s, Nerenberg had become deeply religious, and moved to New York City to live in a Hasidic neighborhood of Brooklyn, she says. She worked odd jobs to pay rent — once as a temp in the accounting department of the New York Times — and started taking night classes at the New School, graduating with a master's degree in media studies.

In the mid-'90s, after her father died, Nerenberg moved to California to take care of her mother. Within a few years, her mom suffered a stroke and died. That began Nerenberg's downward spiral.

"I couldn't handle the stress," she says.

Before long, Nerenberg was homeless and living on the streets of Fargo. She found a shelter that would let her stay if she agreed to see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with schizophrenia.

Nerenberg brought her illness under control with Risperdal and moved into a supportive house. After a year, she came back to Minnesota and found an apartment in a building on Dale Street in St. Paul.

It was the same building that houses the APOLLO, though at the time, Nerenberg was apprehensive about the treatment center.

"I was paranoid," she recalls. "I thought that they would commit me if I joined APOLLO."

After moving into the apartment, Nerenberg quit her medication and quickly began to decompensate. She rarely left the apartment, and stopped taking care of herself, even when she developed a debilitating case of arthritis.

One day in 2005, the apartment's manager came into her unit to tell her she was being evicted, and found Nerenberg crawling around on the carpet. She was committed to the psychiatric wing of Regions Hospital, and spent the next year in treatment centers and halfway houses.

Discovering the APOLLO in 2006 gave her new life. She started attending group sessions for stress management and self-esteem building. She took current events classes, and was even able to practice writing again in a creative literature class.

Unlike at hospitals and other treatment facilities, she didn't feel judged at APOLLO. Though staff still charted her behavior, she didn't feel like they were out to get her.

Nerenberg has been going to the APOLLO almost every weekday since she first arrived seven years ago. So when a staff member told her the center was closing, she was devastated.

"I felt like I had been punched in the stomach," Nerenberg says. "It was very visceral."

Only a year ago, Darren Beckom was living on the streets of St. Paul, spending most nights at shelters around the Twin Cities.

Beckom has struggled with schizoaffective disorder his entire life, and in addition to antipsychotics and other prescriptions, was self-medicating with a cocaine habit. Beckom's case manager first urged him to check out the APOLLO in 2011, but he wasn't interested.

"I didn't know nothing about it," says Beckom. "I thought it was just a homeless shelter."

Beckom eventually came around and decided to try APOLLO, hoping it could help him get clean. He attended group therapy for chemical dependence, and later stress and anger management. He kicked the coke habit, and the staff helped him find an apartment.

Beckom comes to the center almost every day now, often just to hang out with other clients. But now that APOLLO is closing, he worries about relapsing.

"I've been clean for 11 months now, and that's only by APOLLO being here helping me," he says. "Getting involved in these meetings and these groups is what's been keeping me along the way. Now if that leaves, I don't know what I'm gonna do."

The next closest drop-in center is in Minneapolis, but Beckom says it's hard to make the trip every day. Beckom is also concerned for some of the patients he's become close with throughout the past year, some in far worse condition than him.

"Right now, there's no other option on the table," says Beckom. "We still hoping and praying and wishing for the best, that this could stay open."

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