Community Orgs Nonprofits Housing

New Menomonie Shelter, the Cairn House, Set to Open in Coming Weeks

a decades-long dream and a project three years in progress, 20-bed shelter to open Nov. 15

words & photos by McKenna Scherer |

TENDER LOVE AND CAIRN. The Cairn House is wrapping up construction efforts in the coming weeks, slated to open on Nov. 15.
TENDER LOVE AND CAIRN. The Cairn House is wrapping up construction efforts in the coming weeks and is slated to open Nov. 15.

A three-year planning and execution process and a decades-long dream are finally coming to fruition in Menomonie. Stepping Stones of Dunn County’s new 20-bed shelter, the Cairn House, will be complete in the near future, with the goal of opening on Nov. 15.

After being awarded a $1.4 million grant from the state of Wisconsin through its Neighborhood Investment Fund program – Menomonie was one of four western Wisconsin cities to receive a grant through the program, which it applied for in 2021 – Stepping Stones launched a Capital Campaign to raise an additional $255,000, bringing the shelter’s plans to the finish line.

The Capital Campaign aimed to raise the additional funds by Aug. 1, and with the incredible support of the community, Stepping Stones smashed its $255,000 goal.

“We’re shooting (to open on) Nov. 15 if everything goes as planned,” said Heidi Hooten, Stepping Stones shelter coordinator. “The idea has been in the works forever, but this particular project has been years in the works. After we received the grant, we had to work with the city on development plans, get architects and builders, determine the total cost, all of that. Then demolition was in the first week of February this year.”

The Cairn House will be roughly 5,800 square feet and will have 20 individual rooms with twin-sized beds, each with its own restroom and shower. It offers a client laundry room and storage space, a community resource office, a communal commercial kitchen and dining area, and is centrally located, just steps away from the Stepping Stones food pantry on Stout Road. Its roof is also fitted with solar panels thanks to a grant through the Solar for Good program of Renew Wisconsin.

Guests can stay at Cairn House, which will be staffed 24/7, for four to eight weeks depending on their individual wants and needs, as is the timeline for Stepping Stones’ two existing shelters. Those shelters are apartment-style and mainly support families, and are not staffed 24/7.

Cairn House layout. (Submitted)
Cairn House layout. (Submitted)
Construction in progress.
Construction as of Wednesday, Oct. 25.

“Probably 80% of the calls we receive (for shelter) are from individuals, so we really needed this space,” Hooten said.

For the first time in at least 14 years, Stepping Stones has had to cap its shelter waitlist due to the rising need. Grants received during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed the organization to pay for two blocks of six rooms to house its clients at area hotels are almost fully spent, and its two existing shelters are full. With the waiting list capped at about 40 spaces, the organization is eager for Cairn House to open and hopefully relieve and support those on the waitlist – and others.

Hooten and Dana Neil, assistant director of development and public relations at Stepping Stones, explained the decision to offer individual rooms with their own restrooms was made for a variety of reasons. At Stepping Stones’ other shelters, guests vied for personal space; it was also a safety-focused decision.




“The pandemic brought into focus different safety issues,” Hooten explained. “Ensuring everyone could be six feet apart, and here, each room has its own ventilation and own bathroom. If anything like that were to ever happen again, we could still function and not shut down.”

Cairn House will also replace Winter Haven, a 10-person overnight shelter in Menomonie which formerly operated from about November-March each year.

Both Hooten and Neil emphasized the positive relationship between the organization and the City of Menomonie and Dunn County, including Mayor Randy Knaack’s focus on the area’s housing needs.

“We have incredible community support, especially for a smaller town,” Hooten added. “For example, when we started Winter Haven, we held the first volunteer training in St. Joe Church’s basement, and 100 people showed up. It was amazing. Since, hundreds and hundreds of people have volunteered (with Stepping Stones), and they want to meet the clients. They want to help.”

“We have over 120 volunteers a month that help with the shelter and pantry. Someone comes and mows our lawn and helps with upkeep even. I mean, we wouldn’t be able to run without the community support and it’s very evident,” Neil said. “We’re going on 38 years that Stepping Stones has been around, and we’re pretty much a staple here because Menomonie has made us one.”

Stepping Stones of Dunn County receives the State Shelter Subsidy Grant administered by the state Division of Energy, Housing, and Community Resources as well as a grant through the EHH program, which encompasses the Emergency Solutions Grant, Housing Assistance Program, and Homeless Prevention Program. The organization routinely applies for grants and has received those two grants for several years for its shelter program, alongside a mixture of other grants and donations.

There will be a public open house on Nov. 14 from 1-4pm with staff available to answer any questions.

Learn more about Stepping Stones of Dunn County’s shelter and the Cairn House (1620 Stout Rd., Menomonie) online. Keep up with the organization on Facebook.