Organizers hoping to establish a new Baraboo area homeless shelter told members of the public during an open house Monday night that they welcome feedback as the process of establishing a shelter moves forward.
The open house came as the Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter group gears up to bring its request to operate within a local church before the West Baraboo Village Board and Plan Commission.
The West Baraboo Church of God has offered a portion of its space rent-free, and the shelter group would only have to pay for the increase in utilities resulting from its operation.
During a question-and-answer session at the church Monday night, Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter Board President David Mowers said the allotted space would allow 20-25 people to sleep at the church. There would be a general space with bunk beds, four rooms for families and a downstairs area for eating and congregating.
Because the village’s zoning does not currently allow for a homeless shelter in that area, the group has requested a rezoning that officials will consider during a series of upcoming meetings in March and April. The village could place its own restrictions on the operation if the request is approved.
The April 4 West Baraboo Plan Commission meeting and April 11 Village Board meetings will allow for public comment, and Mowers asked supporters to attend and make their voices heard. He also encouraged neighbors and others who might have reservations about the project to participate.
“I want you to know that we want to hear your questions and we want your input,” Mowers told those who attended Monday night’s open house. “And we want to do everything we can to work with you to make sure that this is a safe environment for not only the guests who we serve here, but for you who live on the streets around here.”
One man who attended Monday night’s session raised concerns that a homeless shelter would increase the amount of drugs and criminal activity in West Baraboo, which he suggested may be problematic because the village does not have its own police force.
Shelter organizers said they plan to screen applicants and will refer people with violent criminal histories and sex offenders to other facilities.
For those who might be struggling with drug addiction or mental health issues, they said, providing a safe place to stay is an important first step toward solving other life problems. The shelter group is working with government service providers and other groups to establish support networks for its guests once it’s up and running.
Baraboo Police Patrol Sgt. Ryan Werner said the city has a mutual aid agreement with the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over West Baraboo. So if an incident in the village requires an immediate response and county deputies are out of range, dispatchers can send Baraboo city officers.
The homeless organization formed and began searching for a place to take up shop last fall after a warming shelter that was operated out of a different Baraboo church closed.
The former shelter could house up to 20 guests and typically was full throughout the winter, according to organizers. They said that shows a continuing need for a shelter in the Baraboo area.
Members of the West Baraboo Church of God, located at 150 Shaw St., decided they wanted to find a way to help establish a new shelter and recently announced they would offer up a portion of their space.
“To think that there are people outside right now that really don’t know where to go or what to do, what is it that we can do to help?” the Rev. Derick Bacon of the church said Monday night. “That is the question that I posed to my board. We responded. This is what we have.”
Mowers said the shelter group’s board has applied for nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service, but the process has been delayed due to the recent federal government shutdown.
However, he said that should not deter anyone from donating to the organization. He expects the application to be approved, and said donations made prior to the nonprofit designation, if approved, can retroactively be made tax-exempt.
Mowers said the group is committed to having a detailed budget and plan in place before opening, and that some work on the church will be needed to make it usable as a shelter. The organization is working with a village inspector to identify necessary modifications.