Hebron House's overflow shelter receives additional money from city

Scott Ash
Volunteers Tom, (left), and Ben Demo of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Waukesha set out utensils as they prepare to serve dinner Monday at the Hebron House overflow shelter, which houses homeless men each night from December to April.
Published on: 1/14/2014

They were off to a decent start this winter.

But the Hebron House of Hospitality's men's overflow shelter needed more help fundraising.

"We had really relied on the churches the last couple of years," for financial support, said Chris Lambert, Hebron's finance director. "They were well over 50 percent of total donations and we were getting a message from churches that they were fatigued. A lot of them were saying have you gone to the city?"

That's where Lambert went last month.

And despite concern from some aldermen on what role city tax dollars should play in funding a nonprofit organization, the Common Council — in a 10-5 vote — approved giving $16,000 for Hebron's overflow shelter to help them get through the remainder of the winter season.

The Finance Committee's recommendation was originally for $20,000, but Alderman Aaron Perry lowered that amount by $4,000 since Hebron House has raised money for the overflow shelter since it was last discussed at the Finance Committee last month.

"I think it's reasonable," Perry said. "I don't believe it sets a precedent. It's important that we send a message that city government will take action in regards to vetting and working toward a solution to a problem that many people try to avoid talking about. It's not a problem to just ignore."

Lambert said he was confident the organization could raise an additional $9,500 that it needed to stay open through April 30.

The Hebron House, which needs $54,169 to run from December through April ($26,455 in operating expenses and $27,714 in employee expenses), received positive news after the meeting when Lambert was handed checks from two people in attendance worth about $2,000.

"Raising $7,500 is doable," Lambert said. "We got confirmation that churches will help with that and our director of development is extremely good at what she does."

Churches ask for help

But representatives from these downtown Waukesha churches and members of the community pleaded with the Common Council to further assist the overflow shelter, which is operating at the former Northview School and later the private West Suburban Christian Academy, 1721 Northview Road, for the fourth straight year.

Area churches raised $35,357 of the $55,000 it needed to operate last year.

David Simmons, pastor of St. Matthias Episcopal Church in downtown Waukesha, was one of these leaders who spoke out. His church has been actively involved with Hebron's overflow shelter since 2008 when it housed men in its basement for three years with the help of volunteers.

He said it's "much cheaper to the city" to have the overflow shelter because if these men were on the streets they would likely start fires in abandoned buildings or end up in jail, costing more money to taxpayers.

"If you remember back to the winter of 2007 and we had two die on the streets," said Simmons, who is the president of the Hebron House of Hospitality Board. "We don't want to return to those days. We're not coming to you to fully fund something. We're asking you to become partners and to make this decision and to say that government has some role in helping those that have less than us."

Getting business support

Lambert said there has been an increase in business support this year. In 2012-13 businesses gave $3,195 to the overflow shelter and this season donated $11,940.

"We're really concentrating on getting other avenues (of funding)," Lambert said.

Lambert said getting financial support from the city was started when Alderman Roger Patton brought it up during the 2014 budget process.

"He saw that because close to $45,000 was allocated to the animal shelter, he didn't understand why we don't do the same for the overflow shelter," Lambert said.

Hebron House was too late for the 2014 budget but Lambert said "we kept pressing it to find out if contingency funds could be used for this."

While it didn't get the $46,000 it originally requested before beginning to fundraise, Lambert said Hebron House is "very pleased with what we got."

Against giving city dollars

However, not all of the aldermen agreed with Patton and Lambert. Aldermen Eric Payne, Joan Francoeur, Peter Bartels, Steve Johnson and Joe Pieper voted against giving money to the overflow shelter.

A majority felt funding a nonprofit should be a personal decision, not a city decision.

"I feel the funding is really the responsibility of the entire community rather than the taxpayer," Pieper said. "While the definition between taxpayer and the community might be somewhat synonymous, in my humble opinion the responsibility of the two are entirely different."

Eric Payne added: "I didn't support it at the committee level and it's not easy to say when my pastor is in attendance. It's a broader issue than just the $16,000. Each one of us, every day make our own donations to where we want our money to go."

His son, Alderman Cory Payne, while he voted for the funding, was also reluctant saying he has "a fundamental issue with public money going to nonprofits. But he added "this is a larger humanitarian issue."

United Way on board

While this is the first year Hebron House is receiving city money, the overflow shelter has struggled financially from the beginning. And it appeared this fall Hebron House couldn't operate the overflow shelter — it houses 35 men at night — at that facility due to a lack of fire code regulations.

But thanks to a collaboration with United Way in Waukesha County and its commitment to find a long-term answer to homelessness in the area, Fire Marshal Brian Charlesworth granted permission for temporary use at that facility.

"The United Way and the city and county and other organizations are working on finding a permanent solution (to this recurring issue)," Lambert said. "United Way has lot of players at the table and when we got United Way behind us, a lot more action is taking place."