'Any one of us can be in this boat'
NEW RICHMOND — There are no frills at the Lowrey Hotel.
For $350 a month, you get a bed, a desk, a chair and a dresser. Cheap plastic racks provide a makeshift food pantry if you like. The hotel has one microwave for its 50 guests to share.
Television, cable or internet? Try somewhere else. Lowrey owner Stacy Wright outfits guests with linens, towels and pillows that they can bring downstairs weekly to be laundered.
She said she's not there to pamper her guests.
"I give them the respect and dignity and benefit of the doubt, and just treat them like a human being," Wright said.
Many of the people living there said that in spite of the stigma that follows them around New Richmond as Lowrey tenants, it's that basic respect they get there that's lifted them during their struggles.
"This is the only place that will accept you for who you are," said tenant Peyton Heistand.
But the 20-year-old Ohio native and nearly 50 others residing at the Lowrey must find other living options now that the building's owner opted against renewing Wright's lease at the end of August.
An end to the Lowrey's unique arrangement, which allows addicts, convicted criminals and the poor a cheap place to lay their heads, now means uncertainty for those who have found the place to be a last resort.
"This is the only place that a lot of us have," tenant Edmund Wasson said.
'Massive spectrum' of tenants
Besides their residence, the other common denominator among Lowrey tenants is hardship. Many have been homeless, in prison, infirmed or battled addictions.
Some just need a cheap place to stay.
Hudson resident Phil Dennis has been living at the Lowrey since April after he and his girlfriend went separate ways. Most motels want at least $250 a week, while an apartment around St. Croix County runs $700-$1,200, he explained.
So when he came to the Lowrey with $90 in his pocket, he wasn't turned away.
"That's what's so great about it," Dennis said.
Dennis was among several tenants who espoused the sense of community at the hotel, where tenants said people tend to look out for one another.
Wright said that informal system helps tenants hold each other accountable and provides a support aspect. When people don't come out of their rooms for hours, Wright said she can bet other tenants will check up on them — a distinct departure from life on the streets.
"If you're out on your own, you're not going to find that," Wright said.
But city leaders said they're concerned that, while Wright's heart might be in the right place, the resources aren't. Infants share the hotel with sex offenders, New Richmond City Administrator
Mike Darrow said. Addicts, veterans, convicts and disabled residents often have needs that often require professional programming.
"It's a massive spectrum of people," Darrow said. "But there's no case management there and there's very little security."
Wright admits she relies on internal policies and that city police are often called when things reach the next level. Still, she said the concept, to her, is all about helping those who can't help themselves.
"I like to see people succeed," Wright said.
Tenant Rachel Wasson pays her rent at the Lowrey through a direct-sales job and working as Wright's assistant. She has been living off and on at the Lowrey after losing her apartment several years ago.
Rachel Wasson has since developed a relationship with fellow tenant Lee Floyd, a Peoria, Ill., native whose parole officer brought him to the Lowrey in August 2017 after he spent 15 years in prison on an arson conviction.
"They didn't have nowhere else to put me," Floyd said.
Wright now calls Floyd her right-hand man, whom she trusts to do repairs and other odd jobs around the hotel. While the hotel has seen its fair share of controversy and trouble, Wright said the success stories under its roof seldom get their due.
Floyd, she said, is one of those examples.
"He's just doing really, really, really well," Wright said.
'Lower form of life'
Wright is well versed at standing firm and taking no nonsense from her guests — many of whom have given her grief in the 10 years she's operated the hotel — but she said that hasn't shaken her commitment to empathy.
"Any one of us can be in this boat at any time," she said. "Eighty percent of people are two paychecks away from living at the Lowrey Hotel."
Rachel Wasson wishes more people saw the other side of the people living at the Lowrey.
"They'll talk real mean to you sometimes," she said of community members.
Dennis said he keeps to himself at the hotel and around town, but that doesn't stop others from casting judgment. He said one person who found out he's staying at the Lowrey accused him of being a drug dealer.
Edmund Wasson said he knows the feeling.
"Just because you live here, you're a lower form of life," he said of community sentiment. "And that's not true."
Anissa Burton lived for three years at the Lowrey before getting an apartment in New Richmond. She said she was homeless and hundreds of miles from her children when she came to the hotel. Wright, she explained, eventually assembled a care package that allowed her to return to her native Michigan and get her kids — a gesture Burton said she'll never forget.
"Stacy treats me better than my own family," she said, choking back tears.
Burton said she cried tears of another sort after learning the hotel's lease was up.
"Because I was heartbroken," she said.
'Up a creek'
North Hudson native Dave Purcell came to the Lowrey 10 years ago and, like Floyd, has become someone else Wright relies on to keep order at the hotel.
Purcell, who did prison time before being released after a self-defense revelation, came to the Lowrey while he was recovering from a neck injury. The hotel is in a prime location for him — near his job, the pharmacy, the hospital, food shelf and library.
Purcell gets $830 a month through social security, so "the price here is right," he said. The 57-year-old has a line on a new place to live, but said losing the Lowrey will sting.
"This is gonna tear me up, money-wise," Purcell said.
Somerset resident Mike Seefeld came to the Lowrey last summer after he and his girlfriend split. He works overnights at McDonald's doing maintenance, but said his struggles with literacy have kept him from other jobs and apartments.
Seefeld, 42, has endured head injuries and other trauma that he said has made learning to read a lifelong struggle. Asked what his next move will be after the Lowrey closes, Seefeld voiced a hopelessness shared by others in the hotel.
"I don't know," he said. "A cardboard box and some sheets? I got nothing. I'm up a creek with 10 holes in the boat and no paddle."