A New Hope

Hope Gospel Mission opens new men’s shelter, doubling size to serve homeless population

Barbara Arnold, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Twenty years after Mark and Cindy Donnelly, a local couple who were concerned about the growing but “invisible” population of homeless men and women in the Eau Claire area, founded Hope Gospel Mission, the program is transforming its men’s support system just as it transforms their lives through life-changing programs.

To celebrate the grand opening of the Hope Renewal Center, the faith-based organization is hosting an open house on Thursday, May 30, from 10am-3pm, with an official ribbon cutting at 11am. The new center is at 2650 Mercantile Drive, just off North Clairemont Avenue, and north of the Hope Gospel Mission Bargain Center thrift store. The new construction has twice the occupancy of Hope Gospel’s old shelter, with room for 48 residents in a safer, more effective, and energy-efficient facility. The open house will include food and refreshments, and most importantly, tours.

“So many times during tours, I hear ‘You do this?’ or ‘I didn’t know you did that,’ ” said Hope Gospel Mission Director of Community Relations Brett Geboy. “The more tours we give, the more people will understand how we help people who are struggling and how we are a resource to the community.”

With a motto of “Lives Rescued. Rebuilt. Renewed,” Hope Gospel Mission is all about helping people transform their lives, according to Sandi Polzin, executive director. And contrary to perception, an individual does not need to be Christian to participate. Anyone of any faith is accepted.

R. Brian Nelson, known as “The Homeless Architect,” designed the Hope Renewal Center for Men. He specializes in Rescue Mission architecture – functional, easily maintained, with a flow and lots of natural light – and design for homeless shelters,  transitional housing, recovery programs, emergency housing, and thrift stores. The former men’s residence, located on South Farwell Street in downtown Eau Claire, was purchased by Eli Rupnow, a former volunteer and current civil engineer, who plans to convert it into a furnished, short-term rental complex.

Left to right:  Program Director Chris Hedlund, Intake Manager DeAnn Judson, Resident Supervisor Bryan Broughton, Community Relations Director Brett Geboy
Left to right: Program Director Chris Hedlund, Intake Manager DeAnn Judson, Resident Supervisor Bryan Broughton, Community Relations Director Brett Geboy

The new building includes enough office space to house the entire Hope Gospel Mission administrative team. This is the first time everyone will work in the same place, after being scattered across the Chippewa Valley at various locations, including the Solomon Learning Center and Building Hope store on Western Avenue and three retail stores in Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Mondovi. There also is a huge commercial kitchen and community room – it served more than 300 people for its recent Community Easter Dinner.

According to a Hope Gospel Mission video, more than 3,100 individuals will experience homelessness this year in western Wisconsin. Half of them are children. And on any given night, there are more than 400 homeless people in western Wisconsin.

“We open our doors to anyone who is homeless,” Polzin noted. “They may be lost, broken, or hurting. Yet most homelessness is a symptom of something else. We want to get to the root cause of their homelessness—which may be an addiction to alcohol or drugs, a mental illness, a job loss, or a relationship gone bad—and help them become their best—who God intended them to be.”

Hope Gospel Mission’s Program Director Chris Hedlund describes what Hope Gospel Mission does as a circle of community.

“Homeless, broken, and addicted individuals in our community make the decision to come to the Hope Gospel Mission to enroll in our program to turn their lives around,” he said. “They get valuable work experience at the stores and centers which they can apply to other jobs. Community members donate items to be sold at the thrift stores, and likewise, they also shop at the stores to buy items they need and want at a good price – recycle, restore, renew. So all together each and every one of us is helping to raise our community to a new level by donating items, shopping for items, and contributing to the Hope Gospel Mission programs that are helping transform people’s lives who then become contributing members of the community and help the community as a whole rise to an entirely new level.”

Hedlund oversees each of the organization’s three programs whose residents are housed in the three main wings of the building:

• The Short Stay Program to provide food, clothing, and a place to sleep for individuals where they may stay for up to 30 nights while they address short-term issues in their lives, such as transitioning between jobs or housing situations.

• The Renewed Hope Program for those residents who want to participate in its long-term “Rescue, Rebuild, and Renew” holistic program to help them build a foundation for a fresh start in life. They engage in eight different areas of wellness: academics, addictions, finances, life skills, mental health, nutrition/fitness, spirituality, and employment.

• The Discipleship Transitions Program, which provides residents who have completed the Renewed Hope Program affordable housing and a way to stay connected with the mission programs for one to two years as they transition to getting their own place; they are employed earning their own money which enables them to pay a stipend for their living quarters, and are provided a car from the Hope Gospel Mission Auto Sales store.

To pay for the new men’s center, Hope Gospel Mission raised $4.8 million in Phase I of its “Campaign for Hope” capital campaign. Phase 2 of the campaign, which focuses on the Hope Renewal Center for Women and Children nearby, has raised more than $300,000 of its $1.6 million goal.

The “Campaign for Hope” has drawn support from many community leaders, including Northwestern Bank’s Jerry Jacobson; Royal Construction’s Tim Pabich and Tim Olson; retired business leader Dick Cable; retired plant manager Lyle A. Quandt; Nestle Food Company; and former Eau Claire School Board Member Kathy Duax.

For information about donating or volunteering, visit hopegospelmission.org.

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