WINONA — Another piece of the homeless support puzzle is falling into place at Wesley United Methodist Church in Winona.
Winona-Fillmore Counties Habitat for Humanity along with Minnesota State College-Southeast and Wesley UMC have joined together to construct an emergency shelter at the church for families and individuals facing an emergency housing crisis.
"Over a year ago, a group of people from the Winona Sheltering Network were looking to find a way to provide shelter for people in transition," said Tim Schroering, a volunteer with the church who is working with MSC-SE and Habitat for Humanity on the project.
At the time, the church was trying to figure out how to utilize its space for the benefit not only of its congregation but the community as a whole, said the Rev. Dr. Robert Hicks, pastor of the church.
When Hicks took over the leadership of the church three years ago, he found a faith community that was supporting a building that cost about $10,000 a month. Hicks and his leadership council began to look for ways to make the building more than just a home to his congregation but a hub of activity for the community.
That meant everything from ESL classes and providing space for other congregations to hold services to working with WSN to help the community's homeless.
Already, Wesley UMC provides a place to gather in the morning for people who are using the city's warming shelter located in the basement of Community Bible Church in downtown Winona.
That warming shelter, which operates during the cold months of the year, is available only to adults.
The emergency shelter at Wesley UMC will be available to families as well as adults, providing temporary shelter for people in emergency situations ranging from loss of a home to fire or natural disaster, people in need of shelter after an eviction or loss of home due to financial concerns, and other short-term emergency needs, Schroering said.
Hicks said the project started with an $8,000 grant from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse. Getting help from Habitat For Humanity and MSC-SE also makes the project affordable.
"We started about three weeks ago," said John Corcoran, construction manager for Habitat. "This is phase one. It'll take a couple of months, and we should be done by the end of their semester."
Daniel Krause, a student in MSC-SE's construction technology program, said working on projects for Habitat makes for a great experience when it comes to remodeling.
"It gets me some real experience to do a renovation job in the field," he said.
Corcoran said the partnership Habitat has developed with the construction technology program has helped the organization deliver the labor nepeded for several worthy projects in town. Those have included construction of an addition to the new Habitat ReStore, and remodeling jobs on three projects related to Winona's need for more and diverse shelters for homeless individuals and families.
"We've got the people. We've got insurance. And we've got tools," Corcoran said.
Phase one includes upgrading restroom facilities to be ADA compliant, upgrading flooring and installing a new door in the shelter to ensure safety and security for people who need a roof over their heads in an emergency.
Hicks said there will be two more phases, and the church along with WSN are trying to raise the funds for those parts of the project. In the end, he hopes the shelter will be able to reach agreements with organizations such as county social services and the Red Cross as a resource for people in need who reach out to those organizations.
"It's been a beautiful process," Hicks said.
Watching the students downstairs, and knowing the thought and prayer that the church leaders went through to get to this point, Schroering said he was happy to see the new shelter begin to take shape.
"We've gone from a year-plus of discussion to hammers and noise," he said.