by Joe Bollig
LEAVENWORTH — Even up to the eve of its opening, workmen and staff at the new Interfaith Community of Hope Complex at 311 Kiowa St. here were scurrying about to get the facility ready.
“We’ve just finished installing the sink in the kitchen, and we’ve met all the city requirements for occupancy,” said Linda Martin, director of the overnight shelter.
“It was semi-controlled chaos,” she added.
All the tools, brooms and mops were put away just in time for the blessing and opening ceremony for the new social services complex for the poor of the community, held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22.
The first homeless clients entered into the warm, clean, new building when the overnight shelter opened at 9 p.m.
“We had wonderful assistance from the fire department and people from city hall,” said Paulette Krick, day shelter director on the afternoon of Jan. 22. “They’ve been with us consistently and gave us advice. They helped make the building safe and secure.”
“The reason why it is so exciting tonight is that we’ve had all sorts of volunteers from the community — everyone from people who brought lunches in to the workers, [to] the builders and people dusting the floors,” she said. “Our clients are really excited about the building and . . . all the wonderful things that will happen here.”
During the ceremony that evening, the Rev. Lynn Dickson of the First Christian Church of Leavenworth thanked Sister Vickie Perkins of the Sisters of Charity for her leading role in making the building a reality.
“Some would say the information gained by the Welcome Central numbers provided the crucial awareness that Leavenworth needed this shelter,” said Rev. Dickson.
“This building is a miracle,” said Sister Vickie, director of the Interfaith Community of Hope. “And it’s miracle that we’re grateful to so many for. It’s a building that’s going to mean so much to so many people over the years.”
Although the complex is new, the ministry is not. The Interfaith Community of Hope, a cooperative ministry of 35 Leavenworth and Lansing churches, was established in 2014.
The ministry has three elements. The first is a night shelter to provide a safe place for homeless persons to sleep. The second is a day shelter to provide a place to stay out of the heat or cold and get something to eat. The third is Welcome Central, a clearinghouse for those seeking social services, such as transportation and referrals.
Before the construction of the new complex on the southwest corner of Third and Kiowa, the ministry formerly operated from two locations located five blocks apart.
The new complex is more efficient and effective, said Sister Vickie.
“We needed the three [elements] together, and we needed a facility that was on the first floor,” she said. “The old [shelter] was on the second floor, so anyone who was handicapped we couldn’t accommodate. The dirty laundry was on the second floor but the washer and dryer were in the basement. [Elderly] volunteers were running up and down the stairs all night doing laundry.
“It just wasn’t efficient, so we knew we needed to put the three entities together in one building and have Welcome Central separate from the day shelter.”
Now, the ministry’s clients can go directly from the shelter to the day center, and then to Welcome Center to receive various services — all under one roof.
Before they decided to build a new facility, the ministry considered using an existing building.
“We looked at a lot of buildings around here,” said Sister Vickie. “We climbed through all kinds of things, but nothing really fit what we needed. So we decided we had to build — and we did.”
The one-story building is 6,000 square feet and cost about $500,000 to build and furnish. The upper part of the exterior is stucco painted light blue and the lower part is cast stone. The building is one story, although it has attic storage.
The overnight shelter area has 13 three-sided alcoves that will be furnished with 30 cots — but can accommodate more cots if necessary. Occupancy is usually 18-20 clients.
Both the overnight shelter and day room will share a shower, laundry room, bathrooms and pantry. There is a kitchen for food preparation. There will be footlockers so the clients can store items.
The day room has chairs, tables and computers so clients can look for jobs, check email or even play games.
Welcome Central is the administrative and service providing area.
Building the new complex would not have been possible without the generosity of so many people in the community and the city of Leavenworth.
“The only reason the cost was low is because much of the work was done by volunteers,” said Sister Vickie. “A number of businesses did in-kind contributions, and a lot of contractors and suppliers gave us deep discounts. They were unbelievable.”
From staffing the various elements of the Interfaith Community of Hope ministry, to building the complex, to raising the funds — Lansing and Leavenworth came through like champions.
“So many people donated money, equipment, materials and time,” said Sister Vickie. “We did fundraising and we got some grants, but most of our funds came through individuals.
“People said there was no way we could raise $600,000 in Leavenworth and Lansing, but we did. We raised $700,000, because people were incredibly generous.”
Although the complex is up and running, there is still trim work and other finish items that need to be completed inside. Construction of the parking lot and landscaping will be done in the spring.