MICHIGAN CITY – Interfaith Community PADS has big plans for its emergency shelters for homeless men and women in the Michigan City area – and they carry a big price tag.

PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) has been providing overnight shelter for men in La Porte County for 18 years, and a place for women and children since October 2017. The non-profit offers short-term shelter that is drug- and alcohol-free to homeless men, women and women with children.

That includes any La Porte County residents who do not have a permanent place to live. The number of guests can range from 15 to 42 men per evening, according to director Harrison Holtkamp, "and we have housed up to 16 women and children in an evening."

One of the goals of the organization, which started as a group of volunteers and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 2017, has been to find a suitable permanent site, Holtkamp said. The shelters currently rotate between several churches around Michigan City.

"A permanent site would allow us to deliver services in a more cost-effective manner," according to Ed Merrion, vice president of PADS. A permanent shelter is also a goal of the La Porte County Plan to End Homelessness, which was drafted by the Home Team, an affiliate of the Unity Foundation of La Porte County.

"A permanent shelter would replace the rotation system employed for homeless men over the last 18 years," Merrion said. "It will allow us to streamline all the work we do – from laundry to dishes to daily clean-up.

"It would be easily accessible, yet off the main streets of downtown Michigan City, allowing law enforcement and emergency service operators to be sure of the location, making their jobs easier and more efficient."

And most importantly, according to Holtkamp, "It will enable homeless men and women to quickly find our shelter when they need it most, and then focus on recovery instead of worrying about finding the next place to sleep."

"This will be a big stress reliever for our guests," said Kristen Patterson, PADS board president. "Just having to remember the schedules and get from place to place, that can be real tough for some, especially those with mental hardships."

And the bus stops right out in front, making it easier to find, she said.

"The incredible thing is we could serve men and women in the same building – with more space and less cost," said Andy Sperling, PADS treasurer, "and we won't be rotating between churches."

After years of searching, PADS now has that site. The Diocese of Gary has agreed to donate the former Sacred Heart Church building on West 8th Street to the organization.

After some initial resistance, a variance for a permanent shelter was approved by the Michigan City Board of Zoning Appeals in September 2018. Final city and state approval for necessary renovations was obtained in April 2019; city departments have approved the site; and contractor bids are being finalized, Holtkamp said.

"The dream is to be operating here in mid-April to June of next year," he said.

That's where the need comes.

The church was built around 1916-1918, Holtkamp said, "so it's at least 100 years old. There are no structural problems, but it will need a lot of remodeling."

"Our licensed architect, Roger Potratz, has estimated final cost of renovation to be roughly $280,000, provided there are no surprises," Merrion said.

That includes renovation of the building to provide separate shelters for men (main floor), and women and children (lower level). For security purposes there will be no direct access between levels, and "you have to go outside and through two locked doors," Holtkamp said.

Among the costlier items are installation of restrooms, with showers, on both levels; a laundry room, wheelchair accessibility to both levels, sprinkler and fire alarm systems; new sewer and water lines; a dumb waiter, warming kitchens (there is no cooking as all food is donated); and lighting and electrical system updates.

"There are a lot of things we'd like to do, like new tile on the floors, but the cost keeps creeping up," Holtkamp said. "We just use cots – pads – and someday we'd like to buy beds, but we're not there yet. As we get more money, it might happen, but for now, we just want to be able to get operational in one spot."

The general contractor, Robert Jacobs of B&DJ Associates, has estimated construction time at about 3.5 months, so money is needed now.

For PADS, a major capital campaign is something new; the program has operated mostly on donations since it opened, and rarely done fundraisers except for a golf outing last year. The organization is also applying for grants as part of the campaign, Holtkamp said.

"We've always kind of operated on a shoestring budget, and relied on the churches and volunteers to keep things going. For a while we were operating on about $6,000 every six months, really pinching pennies. ... This is all new to us, asking for this much money – the amount seems huge to us."

PADS is also looking for local businesses to join the cause, Patterson said.

"We want Michigan City and La Porte County businesses to partner with us and be there with us," she said. "We are not a city entity, so it is important for the city and its businesses to embrace us and its citizens."

While the funding campaign is new, the need is not.

The program provides a warm place to sleep on a blanketed pad at night, with restroom facilities, a hot meal for dinner and breakfast. Volunteers prepare or provide dinner and breakfast, while paid staff act as monitors through the night, Holtkamp said.

"In the last calendar year, about 145 individual men were accommodated in the PADS sites, with a total of over 10,330 bed-nights occupied and 20,500 meals served," he said. "Another 58 individual women were accommodated, along with 16 individual children, for a total of 2,848 bed-nights occupied and some 5,700 meals served."

PADS tries to get women with children out as soon as possible and works with other agencies across the city which can provide "a more stable environment," he said.

But while shelter is the short-term goal, recovery is the ultimate aim.

"Overnight guests must register at Keys to Hope Community Resource Center for resource referrals and case management in order to stay at our sites," Holtkamp said. "By requiring that registration, we are empowering and strengthening our guests to participate in the programs at Keys to Hope, their first step toward reaching self-sufficiency."

The new shelter will be named – fittingly, according to Merrion – for Nancy Bracken and Dorothy Miller, founders of the local PADS chapter. It will be a way of keeping their dream alive, Sperling said.

"This is a critical time to help the marginalized in Michigan City find shelter," he said. "We are trying to raise as much money as possible, and every dollar raised will go into the Bracken-Miller Shelter."

Merrion said it will also help PADS serve more people, which he sees as a need.

"Once we have a permanent site in operation, and given that the homeless population is growing across the country, we anticipate serving at least 10 percent more people who have nowhere else to turn.

"The number is rising nationally," he said, "and locally. From 2018 to 2019, the number of homeless households identified in our area’s point-in-time count (on one night) grew from 108 to 134, and the number of homeless persons reported rose from 163 to 188.

"Homelessness is growing even with a booming economy."

"This will be great for us," Holtkamp said. "We now have 40 mattresses at each church. To have everything in one place will be great for logistics."

And hopefully for the community as a whole.

"Michigan City has been very, very good to us, the churches especially," Holtkamp said. "We need to make this a community effort, because we need the whole community to take care of these people."

How to help the homeless

To donate to the PADS campital campaign:

• Send a check to PO Box 38, Michigan City, IN, 46361

• Pay by credit card or PayPal at interfaithcommunitypads.in

• Go to any Fifth Third Bank branch, where an account will be set up

• Visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/ICPADS/

• Use the GoFundMe account which is being set up

The shelters are also in need of volunteers, and businesses which would like to partner with PADS. To sign up or get more information, visit the website, call 219-276-7582, or email info@interfaithcommunitypads.com.

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