Churches launch Leavenworth homeless shelter
by Joe Bollig
“No one in our community has died as a result of severe weather, and we don’t want that to happen,” said Linda Martin, a member of the mission team of the First United Methodist Church of Leavenworth.
It happens every year somewhere.
News stories appear about a homeless person who died a lonely, cold death while warmth and safety were only a short distance away — if only someone had done something.
They’re doing something in Leavenworth.
On Dec. 15, there was an ecumenical Christian “Blessing of the Beds” at a new homeless shelter, located on the second floor of the Leavenworth Emergency Assistance Center of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, located at 716 N. 5th St.
From that day on, the Leavenworth Interfaith Shelter of Hope was open for business.
“There was no homeless shelter in Leavenworth,” said Sister Vickie Perkins, SCL, director of the social service agency Welcome Central. “Numerous times over the past 30 years, people in the churches tried to organize for one, but it never went anyplace.”
Maybe it was because the project was too big for any one church, and the churches had no experience of coordinating with each other. Maybe it just needed the right leadership.
Regardless of the reason for past failures, Sister Vickie took the bull by the horns and called a meeting in September of churches. Many of those churches already coordinated with each other in providing food to homeless persons.
“The beginning of this garnered support from all corners of Christianity [in Leavenworth and Lansing] and across the county,” said the Rev. Lynn Dickson, senior pastor at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “For some reason — the spirit of God, call it whatever you want to call it — we got a very broad base of support for this.”
The biggest challenge was getting a building.
“You have to get the money to buy the building, then you have to renovate the building, but we kept saying, ‘We need it now’,” said Sister Vickie.
That’s when Catholic Charities played a key role.
“I went to a lunch meeting at the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth motherhouse just to say thank you for supporting Catholic Charities,” said Kim Brabits, vice president of program operations.
“They mentioned Sister Vickie’s desire to open a shelter, and I became very interested, because I’ve done quite a bit in homeless services,” she continued. “Sister Vickie and I met, and we decided that the space above our emergency assistance center would be a great location for them, at least temporarily during the winter months.”
Catholic Charities will cover the cost of heating and lights, and the Sisters of Charity paid for enhancements to get it up to code, in collaboration with the Catholic Charities’ facilities manager.
“It’s been a great relationship so far, and we’re anxious to see it up and running,” said Brabits. “Leavenworth has no shelter. . . . I can’t stress how needed this is for the Leavenworth community.”
The shelter has three larger rooms, which have four cots each, and four smaller rooms, which have two cots each. Initially, the shelter will have 20 cots total, although it could expand to 30.
No shower or laundry facilities are available now, but that is being considered for the future. It does not have a kitchen, but snacks will be available to the guests.
The shelter will be staffed largely with volunteers, although there will be one employee. The volunteers will oversee four shifts, each lasting slightly more than three hours. To operate, the shelter needs 14 volunteers each night. It will be open only during the winter, from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The shelter can accommodate men and women. Children younger than age 18 must be accompanied. Families will have a separate room.
“Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas is a ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, so we embrace the broadest definition of ‘Who is my neighbor?’” said Ken Williams, president and CEO.
“We provide services to the most vulnerable, regardless of faith, age, gender, race or ethnicity, disability or creed,” continued Williams.
“But in order to be consistent with our church’s teachings on marriage, same-sex couples are welcome but will not be housed as families.
“This shelter will serve everyone,” Williams concluded. “But while they are with us, they will be asked to respect and honor the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”
Between 20 and 30 churches are involved in the shelter project, with varying degrees of activity, said Sister Vickie. One woman, a pastor in Manhattan, came and shared her experience in shelter operations. She provided an operations manual that will be used as a model for the Leavenworth shelter. Four committees were formed to tackle various areas: facilities, policies and procedures, and fundraising.
Another key player was the city of Leavenworth.
“Our city manager has been very helpful,” said Rev. Dickson. “When we met with Scott Miller, he was right on board. He cut through red tape and all kinds of stuff for us to get us going, which is nice.”
Sister Vickie estimates it will cost about $24,000 a year to run the shelter. The shelter will be incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation and seek grants and donations. Churches are pledging $100 a month to help support the effort.