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Sojourner House looking to expand size of facility

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) - At the Aug. 2 city of Eau Claire Plan Commission meeting, there will be a public hearing on the agenda regarding the expansion of Sojourner House, which is looking to have the shelter expand in size, but not in the number of beds.

If the expansion moves ahead as planned, Catholic Charities, which runs the shelter, will take out the parking lot in front of the building and add two stories. Currently, inside Sojourner, the 53 beds are bunked and close together.

Catholic Charities Housing Director Kevin Burch said they have been looking for ways to better social distance since the pandemic hit last year.

"The pandemic has taught us a lot but, here in the Midwest, with the flu season and other communicable diseases that are out there, it's taught us that this is an essential need; that we have for shelter, that there should be safe social distancing at all times in shelter," Burch said.

The plan commission will be voting next week, but the city has been working with Catholic Charities on the project for some time.

"City departments including community development, engineering, transit, and various departments in terms of the development review process have been working with Catholic Charities for a few months," said Scott Allen, community development manager for the city of Eau Claire. "They provided their formal submittal about a month ago, and now it will reach the stage where it's at that public review process with the plan commission on Monday."

Ahead of the plan commission meeting, some in the area are concerned about the effect the expansion would have.

An anonymous letter has been sent to individuals, such as Brent Douglas-Steltzer of Brent Douglas Flowers, which is located right next door to Sojourner.

The letter includes police logs for calls made within a half-mile of the facility and encourages people to speak at the upcoming plan commission meeting. It also calls people experiencing homelessness "vagrants."

Douglas-Stelzer said he disagrees with the letter's message.

"I definitely think they need more space," he said. "My only thought is we need to have a place for them to go during the day."

Catholic Charities officials said they have heard from people concerned about the expansion, but have responded by explaining that they currently have 53 beds and will continue to have 53 after they expansion.

"We're trying to provide needed resources for our needing neighbors and the more resources and opportunities and services that are provided, that is going to lessen the barriers they have to focus on their basic human needs," Burch said.

And though it would not become a 24/7 facility, Burch said they hope to offer more services such as housing counseling and job training.

"I think we've seen in our community there is that need during the day for the homeless, and those that are in need to have services available to them," Burch said.

Burch said they won't know exactly what the project will cost until they set a final design. And if everything goes smoothly for Catholic Charities, they hope to break ground this fall and open the new part of the building in the spring or summer.

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Felicity Bosk

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