MANITOWOC — For many years, St. Boniface School was a place of learning.
Now, the stately stone structure — still displaying two crosses above its entrance — is about to teach another valuable lesson: that people in the community do care about homeless men.
The building, located at the corner of Marshall and 11th streets, is scheduled to open next month as The Haven, the first men’s homeless shelter in Manitowoc County.
The Haven can accommodate up to 20 single, adult men, but will start with eight men and grow from there. The pre-screened residents will be allowed to stay for up to 90 days while they seek stable housing and employment (if they don’t already have a job).
Mark LeGreve, board president and co-founder of The Haven, said the facility is long overdue.
“It’s inspiring to finally be this close,” said LeGreve, a member of St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Two Rivers, who’s planning to be ordained as a permanent deacon in May. “To be able to have a building of this quality and in this location, and to have the support of the mayor and the council here in Manitowoc, it’s just great. And the support of the businesses in this area has been phenomenal, too.
“We’re all just very happy that we’re getting so close to opening now and being able to help people in need,” he added. “After all, this has been pretty close to a three-year process of going through all the different steps.”
The Haven’s mission is “to live the Beatitudes in providing food, clothing and shelter to homeless men while educating and engaging others to confront issues of homelessness with compassion and mercy.”
LeGreve said the school building was in very good condition when renovations began in earnest a few months ago. “All we had to do was add the smoke and fire protection, bring some doorways up to code, add some security measures,” he said.
Two of the building’s three levels will be available to the residents. The lower level includes an area for dining, watching TV, taking part in group counseling, working on computers and more. The first floor is where the dorm rooms are located. One of the classrooms on that floor was renovated to add showers and restroom facilities. Areas will be secured with a key fob system, as well as closed-circuit security. The top floor of the building has undesignated space.
James Anderson, one of seven board members with The Haven, said he’s pleased to see the shelter about to open. As a young man, Anderson didn’t have a bed for a while; he lived in rooms above bars whenever they were available.
“These are our neighbors, citizens of our community,” Anderson said. “This is morally the right thing to do. We care for the sick, we care for the aged and we care for the poor. It’s time we start caring for the homeless. It’s been a forgotten caregiving sector of the population, and it’s really striking because we have these other services in place.”
Homelessness carries a stigma, he said.
“People don’t want to see that it’s really an issue. Close friends of mine who know that I’m involved with this still say, ‘Are there really homeless people in the county?’” said Anderson. “There’s just not an awareness of it until you have something in place. And it’s hard to bring people’s awareness without offering the service. People may say right now, ‘Where are the homeless men?’ Well, when we open the doors on the first day, people will see because they’ll be coming in. That’s going to enlighten people.”
LeGreve agreed with Anderson in regards to some people’s perceptions about homelessness.
“There’s definitely a stigma that if you’re a single man, you need to man up and take care of yourself and pull yourself up by your bootstraps … and if you don’t have a place to stay you must have done something wrong,” LeGreve said. “There’s a pretty hard line about that with people you talk to. If it’s women or children, our heart strings are pulled. But when it’s a single man, compassion and mercy are gone to a large degree. That is in no way Christian and in no way human.”
The Haven is hiring some staff members and continuing to seek volunteers.
Helping provide guidance to workers, volunteers and residents at The Haven is Erin Schultz. She’s the director and family advocate at Hope House, a homeless shelter for women and families. Hope House and The Haven are located on the same block — on opposite sides of St. Boniface Church.
Schultz will serve as a permanent paid consultant (15 hours per week) for The Haven and will help screen prospective residents.
When it comes to resident requirements, “The biggest requirement is wanting to change the circumstance that you’re in,” Schultz said. “It’s modeled after Hope House and Hope House’s operations. We’re a volunteer program, and we ask that everyone who enters the shelter wants to take the primary steps to change their lives. There will also be background checks, but that’s only to look for suspected issues of violence or things that would put staff, volunteer, guests and other people’s safety at risk.”
Schultz said she’s determined to do whatever she can to help the homeless in Manitowoc County. She said Hope House’s 16 beds are full every week, and they’re devising a plan to expand.
“This program (The Haven) is truly a blessing to this community and to the individuals who will be staying here,” Schultz said while sitting in one of the lower-level areas at The Haven.
LeGreve noted that The Haven is an interfaith effort.
“There’s not a specific religion that’s driving this — just many people have concerns and want to help,” he said. “If there’s a part of faith that drives it, it’d be the Beatitudes and how that fits into things — to have mercy on people.”
However, LeGreve did say he’s hoping to have churches sponsor weeks at a time for volunteering, much like what currently happens with Hope House.
For more information about The Haven, visit http://thehavenomc.blogspot.com.