The Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter has finally found a home.
Its board signed a two-year lease Monday night for a building at 1200 Silver Circle, near Pierce Park in Baraboo, after Real Estate Management Solutions purchased it in August. Tim Moy, an owner of the company and Baraboo resident, approached board members to offer them the space for rent.
“I’m really grateful that he thought of us,” said the Rev. Dave Mowers, president of the board.
Moy said he bought the building with several ideas about how it could be used, including as a shelter.
“I was fairly certain it would be my lowest return, but I guess I know some of the board members and I support their cause. I think a homeless shelter is a necessity of a progressive community the size of Baraboo in Wisconsin,” Moy said. “We can’t consider ourselves a progressive community and have people sleeping outside in the winter, in particular.”
While the lease is for two years, Moy said he doesn’t see this as a short-term project.
Originally built as a memory care facility in 1994, the property has sat empty for about six years, Mowers said, adding the shelter board looked at it last spring as a potential purchase, but turned it down because it wasn’t affordable.
While it was vacant, vandals broke into the building and caused significant damage. He said “some kids … completely gutted the kitchen,” tore down cabinets and ruined carpets by setting off fire extinguishers or the fire suppression system. The mess was cleaned up prior to Mowers signing the lease, but the damage wasn’t entirely fixed.
Moy offered to renovate the 4,700-square-foot building first and build the cost into rent payments, but board members chose to rent it as is for $1,250 per month. They anticipate saving money by fixing it with donated labor and materials.
Already, McGann Furniture has donated flooring and Schaefer Electric has offered free electrical work, Mowers said.
“We’re going to try to be really judicious about using volunteer labor where we can,” he said.
In addition to installing a new kitchen, the organization will need to put in new flooring and paint throughout and work on the 2½ bathrooms, likely to increase their capacity and add at least one shower, Mowers said.
With maintenance, utilities and possibly property taxes, Mowers estimated an annual operating cost of around $30,000, which doesn’t include the one-time renovation costs.
“It’s not financially as good for us as a donated property would be, but considering what it is, how big it is, considering a number of factors with the property, it’s a very fair price,” Mowers said.
A hallway off of the main common room leads to a wing with five double bedrooms, which he envisions as space for single men. Mowers described fitting at least two bunk beds in each room for four occupants.
On the opposite side of the common room, French doors lead to another common space and three double bedrooms. Mowers expects to repurpose that section of building for use by families and single women, replacing the doors with ones that can be locked and accessed with a keypad.
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“We’re really conscious of the need to create and preserve a safe shelter environment, particularly where children are protected and looked out for,” Mowers said. “We know when we’re putting single homeless men and children in the same building, we’re setting up — potentially — a dangerous situation if we didn’t do it well. So it’s really important to us that we think through that carefully.”
But with no homeless shelters for single men currently in Sauk County, he emphasized the need to serve both families and single men and women.
Another bedroom likely will serve as housing for the shelter manager.
While the city ultimately will determine how many people the shelter can house — assuming the nonprofit can obtain the proper permits — Mowers expects to start with a capacity for about 30 clients.
“We think 30-32 would get us to covering a good chunk of the need in Sauk County for a shelter. Certainly not everybody, but it would be a good start,” Mowers said. “And if it got to the point where we’re just 100% full every night all winter, then there certainly would be ways to configure this a little differently and try to increase capacity if the city would allow it.”
He said the shelter aims to build trust with the city and community by being a “good neighbor,” and hopes it would be allowed to expand in the future if needed. His organization estimates there are 80-100 homeless people in Sauk County at any given time.
To operate in the building, the shelter board will need to apply for a conditional use permit, which Mowers expects to bring to the Baraboo Plan Commission at its Oct. 15 meeting. Unlike a previous attempt to use a church in the village of West Baraboo, there are no zoning issues with the city location because it already allows for “community living arrangements,” including homeless shelters.
However, Mowers added that state approval is required to change the building from an institutional purpose to a residential one.
If everything goes smoothly without any delays, the shelter could open as early as December. Mowers said it could be later than that.
“We’re hoping we can push through as fast as we can,” he said.
The organization is currently asking for donations, which can be made by mailing checks, payable to the Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter, to Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo or online via Facebook or Paypal to email@example.com.
Two donors also have pledged to match up to $7,000 in donations made by midnight Monday or postmarked by Monday, Mowers said. Thirty-two people had contributed more than $3,000 as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Moy expressed confidence in the shelter board and the city in approving the project, but said the community now needs to show its support through donations.
“The viability, sustainability and relevance of this project is now really in the hands of the community,” Moy said.