BILLINGS – Only two items adorn on the walls of Christopher St. Germaine’s new apartment. A 25-year-old photo of him dressed in Marine Corps dress blues hangs next to the patio door, and every hour a clock blasts the Marines' hymn.
St. Germaine is one of the first residents of the Apsaalooke Warriors Complex. The housing facility for single homeless veterans officially opened Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside of Crow Agency.
“It’s good I’m not sleeping at one of my family members’ (homes),” he said. “I was always sleeping on the couch, and now I have my own TV and my own bed. It’s really nice.”
Before moving into the complex, St. Germaine lived with his elderly mother in Lodge Grass. He helped her around the house, but she agreed it would be good for him to get his own place and work to get back on his feet.
He served seven years in the Marine Corps with a four-year enlistment in the late 1990s and a three-year enlistment ending in 2005. Since then, he’s struggled with alcoholism, jeopardizing many opportunities. But he’s been sober four months and sees his new apartment as the next step in rebuilding his life.
“I’m hoping when I’m here I can get a job, move into a bigger place and let somebody else get things started here,” St. Germaine said.
Residents in the Apsaalooke Warriors Complex have access to onsite support for mental health and substance abuse issues. The 15 units in the complex are intended for short- or long-term residence and are equipped with full kitchens, bathrooms and their own laundry facilities. Residents provide their own furniture.
“My family, they were good enough to help me get furniture, get a bed and get all the necessities I need,” St. Germaine said.
He said his family told him about the complex while it was still in development and got him started in the application process before the facility was built.
Paul Littlelight, Crow Tribe veterans affairs program director, was part of a committee responsible for bringing the complex to the reservation.
Littlelight said a previous tribal administration secured a grant to build a similar facility but the project never got off the ground and the financing expired. Shawn Backbone, tribal vice secretary, revived the concept, and with the support of the current administration the groundwork for the AWC began.
“Just like the American government it depends on who’s in office and how much they support veterans,” Littlelight said. “The previous administration didn’t, but this one did.”
Littlelight gathered data on the needs of Crow veterans by reaching out to the reservation’s military community, setting up booths at powwows and inviting veterans into his office. The AWC committee used the survey information to apply for federal tax credits dispersed through the Montana Board of Housing.
The Crow Tribe received about $270,000 in annual tax credits for a 10-year period. To access the funding immediately, the tribe sold the credits to investors for a sum of about $2 million, said Bruce Brensdal, executive director of the Montana Board of Housing.
The tax credits are competitive with 25 applications submitted in 2015 and only six accepted. Projects are usually partnered with other community programs, Brensdal said.
“It just kind of depends on the needs of a community, and to the benefit of Crow, they identified veterans affairs as a high-need in their community,” he said.
The building sits on 20 acres of land dedicated for use by Crow veterans. A National Cemetery for Crow Veterans is slated to open at the end of September, and plans for family housing on the property are in development.