St. John’s Homeless Shelter begins new direction

Green Bay shelter to become independent, nonprofit agency on July 1

ALLOUEZ — St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter and the Diocese of Green Bay have agreed to end their 11-year partnership on July 1, 2019. In a letter dated March 7 and addressed to “friends of St. John’s Homeless Shelter,” diocesan and shelter officials said the decision has been in the works for more than two years.

The letter was signed by James O’Neil, SJEHS Board of Trustees chairman; Fr. John Girotti, SJEHS Board of Directors president; and Alexia Wood, SJEHS executive director.

St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, which began in 2005, will become an independent nonprofit on July 1, and no longer operate as a corporation of the Diocese of Green Bay. The homeless shelter will continue to operate under its current name and has entered into a long-term lease with St. John the Evangelist Parish. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“Beginning July 1, 2019, St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, Inc., will become an independent nonprofit and no longer operate as a corporation of the Diocese of Green Bay,” stated the letter. “This transition comes after more than two years of careful planning to ensure St. John’s ministries will continue to thrive and embody the mission of Jesus by caring for those in greatest need in our community.

“Today, leaders from the Diocese of Green Bay and SJEHS, Inc., are confident that the shelter and its affiliated ministries have grown to a point where they can flourish independently from the diocese.”

The homeless shelter’s ministry also includes the Micah Center, a daytime resource center for adults experiencing homelessness, and Wellspring, a daytime resource center just for women.

While acknowledging years of support from the diocese and diocesan leaders, particularly during the shelter’s formation in 2007, the time was right for a new direction.

“Over the years, the ministry of SJEHS, Inc., has greatly benefitted from the support of individuals and departments within the Diocese of Green Bay,” stated the letter. “Many services the shelter could not afford in its early years were graciously provided by the diocese at little or no cost. … During moments of tension, bias, or opposition, the diocese steadfastly supported and defended the need to care for the homeless in our community.”

According to the letter, Bishop David Ricken will appoint a diocesan representative to the shelter’s board of directors. “This appointment will allow for a continued partnership between SJEHS, Inc., and the diocese, maintaining the commitment to serving the poor and vulnerable in the very way that Christ served,” stated the letter.

The partnership’s termination will allow SJEHS to rely on and benefit from the support of other religious organizations.

“The ecumenical response to the needs of homeless persons in our community has been a testimony to our desire for unity and the strong faith present in our community,” said the letter, adding that the diocese “will continue to be an advocate for ministries that care for the poor and the homeless, including SJEHS, shelters in Appleton and Manitowoc.”

“This is a significant moment for the diocese, for St. John’s Shelter and its affiliated ministries, and for all who have supported this important work,” the letter concluded. “St. John’s has become part of the fabric of the community and is a valued contributor to life in the city of Green Bay.”

Fr. Girotti told The Compass that the shelter will continue to serve the homeless in its current location.

“This location is centralized and well known to both shelter guests and volunteers,” he said. “The property has been and will continue to be owned by the St. John the Evangelist Parish, which has entered into a long-term lease with the shelter for the use of the building.”

Fr. Girotti said that the diocese, through the Catholic Foundation, will continue to support the shelter through grants and bequests. In addition, the shelter will continue to receive financial support “from people of all faiths in the Green Bay area and beyond,” he said. “These financial gifts, along with grants, enable the shelter to care for its homeless guests.”

According to Fr. Girotti, SJEHS’s new designation as an ecumenical ministry will allow it to “draw from a wider group of people who are dedicated to caring for those in need of housing and support.”

He added that the shelter’s name will remain the same. “The saint name of St. John (the Evangelist) will continue to be used in reference to the shelter into the future.”

 

A brief history: St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter

The formation of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter (SJEHS) dates back to the summer of 2005, when Sacred Heart Fr. Guy Blair, newly appointed pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, offered the gymnasium of the former St. John the Evangelist School for a temporary homeless shelter.

The seasonal shelter (first known as COTS, Churches Offering Temporary Shelter) opened its doors on Nov. 19, 2005, and closed on April 1, 2006.

The following year, after securing its first Conditional Use Permit (CUP) from the City of Green Bay, the shelter opened on Nov. 8, 2006.

The Diocese of Green Bay took an active role in the shelter in the fall of 2007, after the shelter’s operation was voted down. Deacon Timothy Reilly, then diocesan vicar for administration, presented a letter to Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt on Nov. 2, 2007, on behalf of the diocese’s administrator, Archbishop Timothy Dolan. The letter stated that the diocese was exercising its First Amendment right to give shelter to the homeless and that the shelter would open the following week.

The diocese took oversight of the shelter operations and appointed Mary Marks as shelter director. She was succeeded by Mary Kelly the following year. On April 23, 2008, the shelter became a separate corporation, while remaining part of the diocese.

A capital campaign in 2009 provided funding for renovations and on Oct. 28, 2009, the newly renovated shelter was dedicated.

In September 2010, the shelter’s gymnasium was renamed “The Blair Family Shelter” in honor of Fr. Blair, who had left the diocese for a new ministry in South Dakota.

Alexia Wood was hired as executive director of St. John’s Shelter on June 4, 2012. Two months later, an operational plan was approved by the Green Bay City Council. It called for overflow space, bringing the shelter’s capacity to 84.

The capacity number was called into question by the mayor in December 2012, resulting in overflow space being provided in January 2013 by St. Norbert College and St. Willebrord Parish.

The shelter and the diocese secured a new building in July 2014 to operate a daytime resource center for homeless residents. Called the Micah Center, it opened its doors on Oct. 29, 2014.

Sources: SJEHS, The Compass.