[UPDATE] Partners Searching for Day Center Site to Serve the Homeless (2024)

[UPDATE] Partners Searching for Day Center Site to Serve the Homeless (1)

Wilson Park in downtown Eau Claire has become a frequent spot for the city's growing population of unhoused people. It is also on a list of possible sites for a new day resource center, which would serve the needs of the area's homeless.

UPDATE: Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council has launched a community survey about its proposed day resource center. The survey will be open to the public through July 20. You can find a link here.

Two local nonprofits will decide later this summer whether they’ll pursue a $6 million fundraising campaign to build a day resource center for the hundreds of Eau Claire residents without homes.

The partners have looked at dozens of public and private properties in and around downtown Eau Claire for the facility, which would serve as both a permanent daytime shelter from the elements as well as a hub for services for the homeless from a variety of agencies.

The proposed building would be owned by Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council, a regional poverty-fighting organization, and operated by Hope Gospel Mission, which has sheltered the homeless in Eau Claire for 25 years. Representatives of the two agencies, as well as the City of Eau Claire, spoke about the project at June 18 community meeting at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.

We are positioned to help those that are struggling to be a resource to not only our community, to make sure that downtown is vibrant and functioning well.

BReTT GEBOY

hope gospel mission

“The problem that we are seeing with homelessness and people struggling is not unique to Eau Claire. It is brewing in a lot of different places,” said Brett Geboy, community relations director for Hope Gospel, who said the organization is seeing both an increase in demand for its services as well as an increase in those with significant needs, especially mental health and substance abuse.

“We are positioned to help those that are struggling to be a resource to not only our community, (but) to make sure that downtown is vibrant and functioning well,” Geboy said.

Anna Cardarella, CEO of Western Dairyland, said an average of 29 people who are homeless or housing insecure contact her organization each day. Among other things, Western Dairyland’s housing services include seven fully-furnished single-family shelters, 33 apartments for chronically homeless clients, as well as case management and rental assistance services for hundreds of others.

“Looking at the homeless population in Eau Claire, it is incredibly diverse,” Cardarella said. “There is not one solution that works for everyone. … Some people are homeless temporarily, some people are homeless chronically, and many (are) in-between. Some people we can prevent it.”

[UPDATE] Partners Searching for Day Center Site to Serve the Homeless (2)

Panelists speak at a June 18 community meeting about the possibility of a day resource center for the homeless.

Cardarella said the day resource center would ideally be located in downtown Eau Claire, within walking distance – but not adjacent to – other facilities that serve the homeless, such as Sojourner House (an overnight shelter), the Community Table (which serves free meals), and the Department of Human Services. It would include 5,000-6,000 square feet for the day shelter, 5,000 square feet for Western Dairyland’s housing offices, and about 1,000-2,000 square feet of flexible space for other partner agencies. The facility would replace the temporary Community Haven House, which has moved frequently in recent years from rented location to rented location, mostly recently a former pawn shop on Washington Street.

The precise location of the proposed facility has yet to be determined, and several suggested sites have drawn criticism from some downtown business owners and their patrons. Among them are half a dozen sites currently owned by the City of Eau Claire, which has pledged $500,000 in funds for the project. (The nonprofit groups say they will consider a city-owned lot, but are also exploring buying another site.)

At the meeting, Deputy City Manager Dave Solberg outlined the six city-owned locations, which include a parking lot at Barstow and Seaver streets; the Graham Riverside parking lot; the parking lot at Main and Farwell streets; the Schlegelmilch parking lot; a portion of Wilson Park; and the former U.S. Bank drive-through next to City Hall. On a list of pros and cons of the sites shared at the meeting, the phrase “Concerns from neighboring properties” was listed next to every site.

“We don’t lack compassion, but we do need to be heard.”

ROSE JOHNSON

downtown business owner

Such concerns were expressed earlier this spring when the city said the parking lot on Farwell Street, next to Offbeats Violin & Guitar Studio, was the most likely site for the day center. At the time – and again at the June 18 meeting – Rose Johnson, owner of Offbeats Violin, explained that the lot wasn’t well-suited for such a use. In addition to its proximity to her business, which serves many children, building the day center there would eliminate a much-needed parking lot. “We don’t lack compassion, but we do need to be heard,” Johnson said of herself and her fellow business owners.

Another downtown business owner, Laura Lash of SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar, encouraged the organizations to find the best “scattered site model” for siting the facility. Considering that Sojourner House is literally behind her business, Lash said she knows well the needs of the unhoused.

“It’s the responsibility of this city and its ally stakeholders to rise up and meet that need,” she said at the meeting. “That need will be met with a downtown Eau Claire location as the day resource center and other necessary, available services. That need will be met when those with power and resources communicate openly and with goodwill toward sensibly and sensitively helping this population.”

A member of the event’s panel, Segdrick Farley, said he appreciated the many residents who came to learn and speak about the project – even those who opposed it. Farley explained that he was homeless when he first came to the Chippewa Valley four years ago, having been given $500 and a bus pass after his release from prison. Today, he’s a college graduate with a job at a local law firm.

“When you speak about those people that are unhoused, some of those people are my friends,” Farley said. He credited a variety of individuals and agencies – including DHS, Western Dairyland, and C.C. We Adapt – for helping him improve his life.

“If you’re making a decision about me and my community, I better have a seat at the table,” he said. “And that’s why I’m here. … If you want to feel safe, let’s talk about that – let’s talk about what makes you feel safe.”

As part of an ongoing campaign readiness study, Western Dairyland is soliciting responses to a survey of community members through July 20 (you can find a link here). The study will be finished in August, at which time the organizations will decide whether to proceed with a fundraising campaign. Learn more about the project at westerndairyland.org/DRC.

[UPDATE] Partners Searching for Day Center Site to Serve the Homeless (2024)
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