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Nonprofit group eyes converting WDM hotel into apartments for women taking part in jail diversion program

A nonprofit has an agreement to purchase West Des Moines hotel property that would be converted into supportive housing for women taking part in a jail diversion program, the organization’s executive director told the Business Record.

The Beacon, a nonprofit group that provides housing for women in crisis, is expanding its programming to include offering a jail diversion program for women arrested for nonviolent offenses, including those involving drugs, said Melissa Vine, the Des Moines-based organization’s executive director.

Many of the Beacon’s current clients are women who have been released from prison, Vine said.

“I started asking the question, ‘Why are we putting these women in prison in the first place?’” she said. “Why aren’t we providing them support instead of punishment, and what would that look like?”

Vine said she began considering a jail diversion program for women who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes and who don’t have lengthy criminal histories.

If the proposed jail diversion program moves forward, housing is needed for the women, she said.

The Beacon, previously known as Beacon of Life, is partnering with Anawim Housing on developing the property into transitional housing, Vine said.

The Beacon has an option to purchase property at 1258 Eighth St. in West Des Moines (pictured), which includes a 71-room hotel currently occupied by a Days Inn.

The 38,973-square-foot building, constructed in 1974, would be transformed into 35 studio and one-bedroom apartments, according to information provided to a subcommittee of the West Des Moines City Council.

The property, which includes about 5 acres and is valued at $1.5 million, is a good place to locate the proposed program, Vine told the subcommittee during a meeting earlier this month.

“The neighborhood is safe, it’s on a bus line, there’s medical facilities nearby, and there’s places to work,” Vine said during the meeting.

Russ Frazier, president of Anawim Housing, told the subcommittee that it would cost less than $6 million to purchase the property and renovate the hotel into apartments.

“You couldn’t build it for that,” Frazier said. “The hotel is underutilized and their occupancy is very low.”

Clyde Evans, West Des Moines’ community and economic development director, said city staff members are supportive of the Beacon’s proposed plans for the property.

“It would be beneficial to the community and it would keep the property from falling into disrepair,” Evans said during an interview.

Vine said the property would be staffed 24 hours a day and on-site security would be provided. In addition, residents would have access to all of the Beacon’s support services, including a variety of counseling options focused on mental health and drug and alcohol addictions. Financial literacy and career development classes would also be provided, she said.

Providing the jail diversion program “reduces that burden on the foster care system, the health care system and the justice system,” Vine said. In addition, it costs the Beacon $26 a day per person to provide its clients with housing and support services; prison costs $106 a day person, she said.

The city of West Des Moines has indicated it would provide up to $700,000 for the project; Prairie Meadows is providing $175,000, Vine said. The group is seeking other contributions, and in 2023 will launch a fundraising campaign, she said.

“We’d like to have the money we need raised by the end of 2023,” she said.

More about the Beacon
The Beacon of Life was founded 42 years ago. The nonprofit group, located at 1717 Woodland Ave. in Des Moines’ Sherman Hill neighborhood, serves women with histories of incarceration, trauma, domestic violence and substance use disorders. The group’s focus is to help clients on a path that leads to wellness, restoration, housing and employment. Earlier this year, the group announced that it changed its name to the Beacon and updated its website as well as the group’s logo. Also this year, Anawim Housing and the Beacon announced that they had partnered to start a new nonprofit organization — Full Circle Recovery Community Centers — that works with people affected by substance abuse. More about the Beacon can be found he

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