Hebron House's overflow shelter can't stay at Northview location this winter

Published on: 10/1/2013

It's a quandary Bernie Juno and her staff at Hebron House of Hospitality has faced for the last six years.

But at least there was a temporary solution.

Unfortunately for the men who utilize Hebron's overflow shelter, there isn't one this year — at least not yet.

Since 2007, Juno, Hebron House's executive director, has looked for a permanent solution for the overflow shelter that houses homeless men during the overnight hours in winter.

However, Hebron House hasn't been able to find a suitable location to use permanently due to local regulations which only allow temporary use of a site for three years if it does not meet fire codes.

And now the location — the former Northview School (1721 Northview Road) — that has housed the men for the last three years is no longer an option.

"In the building's current state, it does not come close to meeting building and fire codes for a shelter," Waukesha Fire Marshal Brian Charlesworth said.

Significant upgrades needed

He said there is not a ceiling sprinkler system in the gym where the men sleep (which Juno called the "big issue," a carbon monoxide detector or a full fire alarm system.

"We gave them permission to use that space even though it didn't meet code requirements," Charlesworth said. "So we finally said we don't think it can be extended for temporary use."

Charlesworth said the site was initially approved for one-time use and came back for two extensions.

"The intent was for one-time use but after three times it doesn't become temporary and that's why we said they can't continue it there," Charlesworth said.

Juno said Charlesworth met with several city officials and discussed the possibility of allowing Hebron House one more year at the Northview site.

That request was denied.

"We will continue the search," Juno said.

Meetings don't produce results

The city's decision wasn't unexpected. The shelter knew its days were likely numbered at that location.

"We don't own that building and can't be in that location next year, so the next step is securing a new location for 2013-14," said Cathy Malkani, Hebron's former director of development, earlier this year. "We're starting all over again."

As a result, a Homeless Task Force Committee has been looking for new locations since last year. Before using the Northview location, the overflow shelter was at St. Matthias Episcopal Church for three years.

A meeting was held with Community Development Director Steve Crandell and Dale Shaver, Waukesha County's director of parks and land use, to try and identify new potential sites.

That effort, however, has not produced any substantial results.

Owner's plans unknown

Juno said the Northview building was sold to Dion Conn, who works at the Fox River Christian Church in Waukesha. It was previously owned by the bank. It's the owner's responsibility to make improvements on that building, which Juno said could cost up to $20,000.

But Juno said she doesn't know what Conn's plans are for that building.

"He hasn't shared what he wants to do with it," Juno said. "Just that there are no immediate plans for the building. I think if he wants to do something with that site quite a bit of renovation would have to take place because that's the original school site."

Juno said she wasn't sure if Conn's initial idea for the building had gone south and is re-evaluating his options.

Conn could not be reached for comment.

Cost a factor as well

While Irene Perez, Hebron House's new director of development, calls the location impasse "the sticking point," there's also another concern: raising enough money for an overflow shelter to even be possible.

Juno said it costs about $55,000 for staffing and supplies to house men from the middle of November (when it typically opens) to the end of April.

But because money was so tight last year, the overflow shelter didn't open until the beginning of December.

And for it to stay open until the end of the season due to increasing expenses for snow removal, it needed the support from a musical event organized by First United Methodist Church that raised close to $17,000.

Outside of when the county gave the overflow shelter $25,000 in 2011, donations have made the overflow shelter possible.

Perez didn't think raising money would be an issue this year as much as finding the location would be.

"We'll raise the money again and the downtown churches have been wonderful, but for them to carry the burden year after year it's not fair," said Perez, who hoped the city would give Hebron a one-year grace period at the Northview location. "But we'll start raising funds while we're stuck waiting on a location. If we can't get it I don't know what we'll do as a Plan B."

Even if Plan B comes to light soon, it could be a lengthy process to get a site approved. Zoning will have to be approved by the city's Plan Commission, which Juno said "is always a challenge for neighbors and the commission."

In desperation mode

But with cold nights quickly approaching, Perez doesn't want to think about not having men (140 throughout the winter last year) inside a warm shelter.

Two men froze to death in Waukesha before the overflow shelter opened in 2007.

"Will it take another person or two freezing to death?" Perez said of Hebron receiving more assistance. "Each year the overflow shelter is a challenge whether for space or funding — usually both."

However, even if a site would be found, Juno said realistically, it would not open until December due to timing for Plan Commission hearings, Juno said.

"There are really no new sites, so we're kind of desperate right now," Juno said. "We're always hopeful and something could come up. It's usually at the last minute. But we have looked at the issue very seriously for the last year and couldn't find anything."