Downtown Baraboo pastors are working with government leaders to ensure the community continues to offer shelter to the homeless this winter.
Clergy hope to fill a void created by Matt and Rachelle Fearson’s imminent departure from the community. The couple operated a warming shelter through their church, Hope Through Christ Ministries.
The group has determined its best course is to establish a nonprofit organization dedicated to operating a homeless shelter. While tackling the setup and paperwork that entails, pastors also will be looking to secure a building. Their goal is to identify at least a temporary location before winter.
“We just rallied the downtown churches to try to put into place something this fall,” said the Rev. Marianne Cotter of First United Methodist Church.
Recent meetings have featured visits from city and Sauk County leaders, as well as the operator of River Haven in Portage, which leases two shelters at below-market rates. Baraboo pastors are interested in government-owned or privately owned properties that might be suitable and available. The Fearsons have put their home and church up for sale as they prepare to move to Arizona. The list price of $219,000 is daunting for the fledgling nonprofit looking to preserve their ministry.
“There’s a whole group of people who are committed to something happening for this winter,” said the Rev. Dave Mowers of Trinity Episcopal Church. “At this point, we will take an imperfect solution.”
Pastors estimate they’d need $150,000 per year to operate a shelter. They can accept donations once they get nonprofit status. They may approach the city and county for financial support, as well.
They agreed creating an independent entity — rather than putting a single church or pastor in charge — will ensure long-term stability.
“We’re trying to kind of widen our network,” Cotter said. “We feel it’s very appropriate the city have some role, and maybe even the county.”
They felt called to step up and preserve the Fearsons’ ministry.
“People who are poor and in difficult situations are important to God,” Mowers said. “I think this is right at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.”
The Fearsons operated an overnight shelter in the winter that accommodated up to 20 people. The group working to succeed them hopes to operate a year-round shelter. So far this year, the St. Vincent de Paul Society has given vouchers for short-term hotel stays to 254 families at a cost of $114,000. Those families included 520 people, indicating many of Baraboo’s homeless are children.
“Is that acceptable to us that a St. Vinny’s voucher is all that stood between 250 kids and homelessness?” Mowers asked.
The nonprofit’s board of directors will be made up of pastors and others who have participated in the push to create a homeless shelter.
“I think we’re ahead of where we thought we’d be at this point,” Mowers said. “I’m hopeful we’ll have something in place for the fall.”
They credited the Fearsons for spending the past 15 years undertaking a much-needed ministry Baraboo might have taken for granted.
“They’ve just done a tremendous service to this community,” Cotter said.