Shelter awaits Jan. 18 court appearance

By | January 9, 2013

On Jan. 2, the Diocese of Green Bay was served with a summons to appear in municipal court to address the alleged violations.

As the dispute between the city and the diocese moves to the courtroom, the shelter received a welcomed alliance on Dec. 21. St. Norbert College opened its Pennings Activity Center to shelter guests. Since then, 16 guests have been transported from St. John shelter to De Pere each night.

“With school not in session, it was really an easy decision. We hope to give them enough time to get things worked out there,” said Norbertine Fr. Jay Fostner, vice president for mission and student affairs. He said college president Thomas Kunkel and his cabinet supported the move.

Alexia Wood, St. John Homeless Shelter executive director, said the college’s gesture was a godsend.

“St. Norbert College has been incredible,” she said. “It’s been a huge blessing for the shelter and more importantly for our guests, that they are able to open up doors and provide additional sleeping space for guests right now.”

While a blessing, it’s also been a financial burden. According to the diocese, the shelter spends between $300 and $350 per night on transportation and additional staffing.

“We send 16 guests a night (to St. Norbert) just to bring our numbers down while we work with the city,” said Wood. “Generally we are serving … under 64 in-house and in the mid-70s total. It’s still pretty high.”

She said a taxi service transports guests to St. Norbert following dinner at the shelter. Two staff members oversee the operation at St. Norbert. Fr. Fostner said the campus safety department is housed in the Pennings Activity Center, so additional help is available throughout the night if needed.

Guests are transported back to the shelter each morning for breakfast.

“Unfortunately (the arrangement) is adding chaos in an already chaotic environment for our homeless guests,” said Wood.

St. Norbert College, which has been working with the City of De Pere to make sure it’s up to code for safety and zoning, will continue to assist the shelter until spring semester begins Jan. 22, said Fr. Fostner.

“For us, as a Catholic institution, this is simply our mission,” he explained. “It’s the call of the Gospel. It’s an easy decision to say we have to step up and do absolutely everything we can when there is a need.

“On a practical level, it’s just unconscionable to leave people out in the cold,” he added.

Wood said the shelter continues to work with the city “in good faith by looking to send overflow guests off-site.”

“It’s not a sustainable, long-term plan,” she said. “But we need to help people coming to our doors with the love of Christ.”

Wood said the number of homeless people in the city is up this year compared to last year, placing an additional burden on all of the city’s homeless shelters. “The economy has not improved quick enough to meet the needs of lower income individuals.”

She added that the shelter will work with the city “to develop a long-term plan that meets the needs of every homeless constituent in the city.”

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