After a full season without a location for the homeless, a newly formed group has remedied that problem.
The newly formed Merrill Community Homeless Center Inc. has been recognized by the IRS as a 501 C-3 not for profit organization. Upon receiving the designation, the wheels turned quickly and a piece of property was officially purchased for the warming center and eventual homeless shelter which will operate under the name Habitat Home. This entire project was possible due to the cooperation of property owners Robbie and Trina Johnson and the Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors.
Mike Ravn, president of the Merrill Community Homeless Center, stated, “We extend our sincere thanks to the Johnson’s and Habitat for Humanity during this purchase process as they were very cooperative, generous and patient with us while we awaited our not-for-profit designation from the IRS.”
The work on this project stemmed from a committee that was developed and encouraged by the Merrill Area United Way. The United Way Board, in their March 2017 planning meeting, said it is important to get a more permanent location. Under the leadership of Mike Ravn, a new committee was formed to address the task and the work began immediately.
Serving on the Merrill Community Homeless Center, Inc., Board of Directors are: President Mike Ravn, Vice President Denis McCarthy, Secretary Dee Olsen, Treasurer Art Lersch and board members Don Heyel, Kathy Gruett, Sue Norenberg, Mark Jahnke and Pastor Susan Christian.
Most of the early work was organizational in preparation for the documents to get a 501 C-3. An early look at the property developed interest and a letter of intent to purchase was given to the Johnson’s. Then funding concerns were addressed. It was made known to the committee that Habitat for Humanity would be in a position to assist financially. Ultimately, they came on board as a full supporter and fully funded the purchase of the building. In honor of their generosity, the board has appropriately named the warming center/shelter Habitat House.
The building is located at 407 W. Main St., less than one block from the former warming center. The West Main location will need some reconstruction. While several steps have been taken toward planning for the reconstruction, work will begin once the Wisconsin Building Inspector approves the plans developed in cooperation with Jim Turenne, contactor; Ghidorzi Architects, and the board. Preliminary inspections of the rook, environmental and structure have been done.
The work will begin within the next one to two weeks.
This project will be done in two phases. First, the ground level will be remodeled for the warming center. The second phase will focus on the upper story, converting that space into a shelter. The building will be made handicap accessible. Showers will be added and restroom facilities will be upgraded in both phases.
“There is a real need to make certain people, families are not left out in the cold,” Ravn said. “Number of the homeless continue to rise, reaching more than 140 in the past year. In time this facility will provide a safe, secure, warm but temporary site to lift a hand up to the homeless.”
Going forward, the organization will work on a fund raising effort to help with the additional cost, including operation costs. The properties of the former warming center have been in storage and will come out before year-end as the new center is set up.
The United Way was the key operational organization, fiduciary agent for the former warming center. All $7,500 in donations held by the United Way from the previous, generous donors have now been turned over to the new organization.
While an exact date has not yet been set for the opening, due to the flexible construction schedule, the board feels certain it will open before year-end.