St Vincent de Paul Striving to Facilitate Positive Future for Marshfield Family Shelter Facility

Steven Okonek - TriMedia Photo

Marshfield Family Shelter to Close

Located at 505 East Depot, Marshfield Family Shelter (formerly known as Frederic Ozanam Transitional Shelter) opened in April 2014, but will be closing before the end of the year.

Designed to provide assistance to those needing a place to live while they secure permanent housing and become self-sufficient, the shelter can house 14 families at a time, and a maximum of 82 people.

A sister entity of St. Vincent de Paul built with help from community donations, community support has been integral to sustaining operations at the 12,000-square foot shelter.

Financial limitations and lack of a cohesive work staff are being credited for its closure. For example, in just four years, the shelter has had three directors. St Vincent de Paul has historically utilized volunteers for a portion of its outreach staffing.

Operating a transitional shelter requires experienced and educated staff that can handle situations unique to a shelter setting, including drug/alcohol addiction, domestic situations, and other issues- something that Board members and employees agree that Marshfield Family Shelter lacked.

“To properly run a shelter, we’ve learned, requires a highly-educated, competent staff that you need to pay highly for. These are things that we were not able to produce. That came to a head and we had to make a decision the best way that we know how,” said Tom Youngwith, Vice President of the Saint Vincent de Paul Board of Directors. “It was an extremely hard decision to make. We’ve been continually talking about how we’re going to keep it open financially.”

“It’s been run on a shoestring budget from the get go,” said Paula Jero, Executive Director of Marshfield Area United Way, a key contributor to the shelter. “It’s not cheap to run. It’s a very large building.”

Jero reiterated that proper management skills and experience are crucial to the success of a shelter.

“Running a shelter is extremely difficult, and homelessness is often a symptom of underlying issues such as mental health, and drug and alcohol addiction and running the shelter has been really challenging,” said Jero.

“We realized that we can’t keep going forward like this and decided that we had to shut the shelter down,” said Youngwith. “We realized that we had to give a date and then concentrate on relocating and finding new housing for those families.”

St Vincent de Paul Engages in Next Steps for Shelter

Though the shelter will no longer be operated by St Vincent de Paul, there is possibility that the shelter could be taken over by another nonprofit shelter.

“At this time, I am aware of two other community organizations that are interested in taking over the operation of the shelter, however SVDP has determined they would like to sell the shelter and the sale price prohibits these organizations to move forward,” said Jero. “I would hate to see us lose that resource in the community. It’s been full ever since it was built. It’s a tremendous loss as a resource for our community. It currently serves a need.”

“I really think the staff there tried to the best of their ability, but the requirements to run a transitional shelter was beyond our means, background, and ability,” said Youngwith. “We are trying to find a group that has the means and background. People in the community donated for the purposes of having a shelter. We’re going to try everything in our power to have it continued as a shelter.”

City of Marshfield officials are aware of the impending closure and willing to help facilitate discussions and assist where possible.

“The City is certainly here to help facilitate those discussions as well as assist in any way we can,” said Mayor Chris Meyer. “Direct funding of this facility has not been something the City could take on as it is a religious organization and offers services that are generally in the domain of Human Services, which is a function of the County.”

Though the shelter would no longer be operated by St Vincent de Paul, the organization as a whole is still dedicated to helping the community.

“Now we’ll be able to focus on the other services that we provide. We actually serve a multi-county area, and 700 families every month,” said Youngwith. “There are people that have needs and we want to make sure to take care of them. As a Board, we have a responsibility for all of these things. The shelter was sapping resources that we were spending on other areas.”

Youngwith encourages people to not jump to conclusions and give the board time to work on ensuring the facility continues as a shelter, which could be in motion as early as January 2018. St Vincent de Paul offers many services, including a free medical clinic, birth counseling, and food pantry.

“We have at heart the people that have donated, the people that need the shelter, and the health and sustainability of St Vincent de Paul, which serves hundreds of people,” said Youngwith. “No matter what happens, that facility has to serve the community in some way.”

St Vincent de Paul Outreach, North Central Community Action Program (NCCAP – the lead agency for homelessness assistance), and other organizations, are assisting current shelter residents with relocation efforts.

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