Transitional housing is sorely lacking in Barron County. Actually, it’s nonexistent, according to the Barron County Economic Development Corp. executive director. But that will change come winter after the Salvation Army opens The Family House in an old nursing home west of Barron.
Last week the Salvation Army closed on the property in the countryside on Highway TT to the south of Highway 8 a few miles outside of the county seat. Duana Bremer, the Salvation Army director for St. Croix, Polk and Burnett counties, first heard about the abandoned buildings from the Turtle Lake Police Department.
Bremer contacted the bank about buying it, but she faced a daunting hurdle.
“To be honest with you, I had absolutely no money,” she said.
Bremer began pursuing government funds, and Barron County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director David Armstrong proved to be an important ally in obtaining Community Development Block Grant COVID dollars.
Saying there’s no place for people who can’t enter into a normal renter/landlord relationship, or who are leaving jail or addiction treatment, Armstrong had been searching for a partner to bring transitional housing to Barron County for five years.
“It’s so badly needed right now,” Armstrong said.
The Salvation Army received $525,000 in CDBG funds plus $200,000 from Foster Friess, which was enough to buy the building, fund future renovations and cover operations for a little while. Although important steps, that’s only a fraction of the work the Salvation Army faces now to actually open the doors to transitional housing and emergency shelter.
“There is a lot more work that needs to be done that we hadn’t anticipated,” Bremer said.
The Salvation Army wants to renovate the building to provide transitional housing for about 14 people, from male and female individuals to families who can’t find a home. Tenants would pay rent, probably around 30% of income, and they could come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, Bremer said.
“It wouldn’t be people just from our shelter, it would be people from other shelters and we will be taking referrals from the department of corrections,” she said.
The Salvation Army Service Center will also provide case management and housing navigation, plus the organization will open the facility to the homeless who don’t want to spend the night but seek a shower, laundry and a hot meal.
But the place is a mess and requires a great deal of work from cleaning to plumbing and the installation of a sprinkler system. The showers and bathrooms need extensive work, and Bremer wants to install toilets and sinks in the rooms that don’t have the amenities at this time.
A second, smaller house next to the old nursing room has been completely gutted, but Bremer sees renovating it into emergency shelter for families as the bedrooms are large and can accommodate more than one bed. Plus there’s a small kitchen area for moms to make simple but hot meals if their kids want one.
The grounds are also on Bremer’s to-do list, especially because they could provide a peaceful haven for residents suffering from mental health disorders.
“The gardens could be beautiful, but they need tender loving care,” she said.
While the Salvation Army had hoped to open the new service center in October, that simply isn’t going to happen, Bremer said.
But ready or not the need to help the homeless continues to exist, so Bremer is making a contingency plan now that the opening has been pushed to mid-winter. She hopes to contract with a motel owner in Barron to rent three rooms for the season, while continuing to provide case management and food, and open the service center every other day.
In the meantime the Salvation Army will provide rent, utility and transportation assistance. Once the transitional housing opens, Bremer trusts residents to car pool to get themselves to their jobs and the service center has a fleet vehicle to help with transportation.
The Family House will need a number of volunteers to get it up and running and maintain it in the future. The buildings need a good cleaning, and the Salvation Army is looking for people to answer phones and bring in evening meals. A good handyman to perform minor repairs wouldn’t go amiss, either.
And needless to say furnishing the rooms will be a top priority. Bremer said the Salvation Army hopes groups will sponsor a room — she noted several churches had already stepped up to the plate — and people will donate either new or gently used furniture in good repair.