Gimme shelter

community groups come together to make "no questions" homeless shelter in EC

Emily Anderson, photos by Leslie Ballantine |

After a ceremonial speech, Catholic Charities Executive Director Deacon Richard Sage and a hard-hatted cohort got right to work on the new homeless shelter.
After a ceremonial speech, Catholic Charities Executive Director Deacon Richard Sage and a hard-hatted cohort got right to work on the new homeless shelter.

“There isn’t any ‘ground’ to break, but there’s lots of work to be done.” This statement was the theme for the “wall” breaking ceremony held on June 10 to celebrate the start of construction on Eau Claire’s first "no questions" homeless shelter, Sojourner House. 

With a hopeful opening date of October 1, the shelter will be located at 618 S Barstow St. Rather than constructing an entirely new building, the building that currently stands at that address will be renovated in order to create a safe haven for those without any place to stay for the night. 

The Sojourner House will provide single men and women with a place to stay, laundry services, showers and bathrooms, and a delicious breakfast in the morning. Also available is a “Wet Room,” where those who may have been drinking can come in, sit, and sober up for the evening. There is no limit to the number of nights a person may stay, but the shelter does close in the morning after breakfast. 

The coalition realizes that people find themselves without a home for a number of reasons, Karen Becker said. Therefore, they have attempted to offer benefits to everyone. Some of the people the shelter will accommodate want to work and get ahead, but are not able to afford rent or are unable to find/maintain a job if they cannot get a good night’s sleep or do not have a place to eat, shower, and clean their clothes. Others, who may not have any intention of bettering their situation, are given a place to stay with no questions asked. Anyone will be welcome in the shelter. 

The main purpose of the Sojourner House is to fill the gap of services that other community organizations do not offer. Mary Clark, of Valleybrook Church, has spent many years working with the homeless and she not only recognized the void in Eau Claire, but acted on it. Shortly thereafter, the Eau Claire Shelter Coalition was formed. Members of the coalition include those from many local organizations such as the Salvation Army, The Community Table, various community churches, Sacred Heart Hospital, Eau Claire City Councilman Andrew Werthmann, and City Manager Mike Huggins. 

Last winter, Catholic Charities joined the project, and the shelter will be run by their volunteers and staff. They had already put some of their efforts towards helping the homeless, so joining the project was a natural progression. 

During the renovations, which are estimated to cost approximately $150,000, the building will undergo a complete overhaul. Once finished, the Sojourner House will have a new kitchen, bathroom facilities, including plumbing and showers, washers and dryers, and a private area for beds. Everything will also be handicap accessible. It will accommodate up to 30 men and approximately eight women at a time. The name, originally a suggestion from a coalition member, was selected after a vote on the organization’s Facebook. A sojourner is a name for someone on a journey. The Sojourner House and its volunteers aim to help those without a home on their journey.