"This is gorgeous. I didn't expect it to be this nice," said a wide-eyed Kronquist. McDonnell nodded in agreement as the two looked around the 220-square-foot studio that comes equipped with furniture, a large bathroom, a microwave and television.
The couple has been homeless for five years, and met two years ago in a park.
"It was absolutely what we needed to get right back on our feet," she said.
In recent months, McDonnell and Kronquist spent their nights together on the floor of churches and at the Hotel de Zinc. Now, with a stable, affordable place to stay, the two can focus on finding jobs and putting their lives back together.
On Sept. 7, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority began leasing the 88 new units to those who couldn't afford a place to live otherwise. As of last week, 33 of the apartments -- located next to Town & Country Village on Encina Avenue -- had been filled. They range from studios to two-bedrooms and are meant as permanent housing, not emergency shelter.
"You don't put people in a shelter and try to fix them there," said Anne Ehresman, senior vice president for InnVision the Way Home, the nonprofit that will manage services on the ground floor of the building.
"What's unique about this is you have a service center for the general population as well as tenants," Ehresman said.
The red stucco building's first floor contains the drop-in services that had previously been offered at the Urban Ministry drop-in center near the Red Cross -- a clothes closet, meals and snacks.
InnVision, which merged with Urban Ministry of Palo Alto four years ago, closed the former drop-in center to shift over to the new facility last Friday.
The building's apartments are split in two sections for singles and families. Each furnished apartment comes with a bathroom, a sink and microwave, and a television.
The family units have full kitchens.
"It's nice and new and clean and everything," said Brian Malkove, 48, who just moved into one of the apartments after being homeless on and off since 1992. "It's more like a hotel than I thought," he said.
The Opportunity Center has some added features, including a computer lab, a children's play yard, a kitchen, a living room area, showers, laundry machines, a classroom, medical and psychological services.
The showers were particularly attractive to many of the drop-in clients who celebrated the facility's opening last Friday.
"I got the first shower in there," said William Reisert, who has applied for an apartment and will use the drop-in services. "It was warm and clean!"
Funding for the five-story, $24 million project came from donations, government grants and loans and tax credits.
The Community Working Group developed the project in partnership with InnVision and Santa Clara County's Housing Authority. The Housing Authority manages the apartments, while InnVision operates services on the ground floor.
Tenants still pay rent -- single apartments cost $371 and two-bedrooms cost $675, with a $350 deposit -- but some receive subsidies and Social Security benefits to help with the costs while others have jobs that wouldn't pay for a market-rate apartment but can afford something cheaper.
Kronquist already has plans for decorating her new apartment. With her book-a-day reading habit, she'll now have a bookshelf to store her paperbacks.
"Barry Bonds is going right over here," she said, pointing to the wall above the bed where she'll hang a poster of her favorite athlete.
Malkove said he's most looking forward to having his own bathroom. When he moved in last Friday, he already knew the first thing he'd do once he got settled in -- take a hot bath in his new bathtub.
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