MICHIGAN CITY – A local non-profit that has been providing overnight shelter for the homeless for nearly 18 years has been given the chance to create a shelter that will serve vulnerable men, women and children.
But it won't be easy and it won't be cheap – the price tag is estimated at about $300,000.
That's why Interfaith Community Pads Inc. has started a GoFundMe campaign for renovation of the former Sacred Heart Church on West 8th Street to turn it into the organization's first permanent shelter, according to executive director Harrison Holtkamp.
In November 2001, PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) hosted its first night of shelter at the First Presbyterian Church in Michigan City, he said.
"Two elders of the church, Dorothy Miller and Nancy Bracken, had put together a coalition of churches which provided nightly sites, volunteers, meals, supplies and finances to provide shelter for a growing number of homeless men."
For 16 years, "those volunteers provided shelter from mid-October to mid-April, rotating out of an always changing list of church sites," Holtkamp said.
The Salvation Army of Michigan City joined the effort in 2006 and continues to provide nightly shelter from spring to fall each year, he said. And in 2017, "seeing a growing number of homeless women," the volunteer group officially became became a 501(c)(3).
Using different nightly sites, PADS now runs a year-round program for women and the six-month cold weather men's program.
"The population we serve are the homeless of La Porte County, both men, women and women with children," he said.
And the numbers are alarming.
"In 2018, approximately 145 individual men were accommodated in the shelter sites, with a total of over 10,330 'bed-nights' occupied and 20,500 meals served. Another 58 individual women were served, along with 16 individual children, for a total of 2,848 'bed-nights' occupied and approximately 5,700 meals served," according to Holtkamp.
But the constant moving from site to site made things tough, not only on the volunteers, but on the homeless population, which would have to first find out where the nightly shelter was, and then find a way to get there.
PADS says the move to Sacred Heart will change all that.
"The Diocese of Gary has agreed to donate the former Sacred Heart Church building to PADS to serve as a permanent emergency shelter site," Holtkamp said.
"A zoning variance was approved in September 2018, and final plan approval was obtained from the state in April 2019," he said. "Our licensed architect, Roger Potratz, has estimated the final cost of renovation to be roughly $300,000, provided there are no surprises."
Donations will be used to renovate the building into a permanent shelter with separate levels for women (or women with children) and men (upper level).
Needed work includes installation of restrooms (including sinks, toilets and showers) on both levels; a laundry area, wheelchair access to both levels, a sprinkler system and fire alarm system on both levels, new sewer drain line, new 4-inch water supply line, dumbwaiter, warming kitchen, and lighting and electrical system updates, Holtkamp said.
"Money will also be set aside to fund the increased overhead that will come with utilities and insurance. The general contractor estimates construction time to be roughly 3.5 months, not including installation of fire alarm and sprinklers."
He thinks it's well worth the price.
"A permanent shelter site will streamline all the work we do, from laundry to dishes to daily clean-up. The location is easily accessible (on a bus line), yet off the main street of downtown Michigan City. Law enforcement and emergency service operators will be sure of the location, making their jobs easier and their delivery more efficient.
"Most importantly," he said, "a permanent site will enable homeless men and women to quickly find our shelter when they need it most, and then focus on their recovery instead of worrying about finding the next site. Because recovery was a big concern for Dorothy and Nancy, we plan to name the shelter after them."
Holtkamp hopes the community will see the value as well.
"We hope you see the value of the work we do," he said. "As a member of La Porte County's continuum of care, the 'Home Team,' we are the base of a system designed to identify those suffering homelessness, shelter and feed them, while linking them to the resources they can use to get back into the mainstream of life.
As of Thursday, $3,000 had been donated toward the $300,000 goal. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/permanent-emergency-shelter. For more information, call 219) 276-7582 or email@example.com.
"Any donation large or small will make a difference in providing valuable services to the homeless and marginalized in the La Porte County area," Holtkamp said.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Whether it’s providing social services to vulnerable populations, helping the homeless, providing medical services to the underinsured or working to better their communities, many people and organizations in Michigan CIty and around La Porte County are truly making a difference, many doing so out of the public eye. On Saturday, The News-Dispatch will present a special section spotlighting some of these efforts. We will also run stories before and after that date to highlight some of the good work being done in the community. If you know of a person or organization going above and beyond to help others, contact Jeff Mayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.