Homelessness hits close to home for Denny Farrell, business administrator at Guardian Angels in Oakdale.
“I have a brother who’s been homeless for some time,” said Farrell, 68. “When [wife] Mary and I moved back here to the Twin Cities [in 1992] — we were on the West Coast for 17 years — we found my brother and got him some housing.”
That personal connection motivated him to spend 15 years working with Families Moving Forward, a program in Minneapolis that provides temporary housing for the homeless.
And, it caused him to respond quickly when three Guardian Angels parishioners — Marla Simmet, Sally Krupich and Karen Fitzpatrick — came to him with a way the parish could make a difference.
The women proposed using the recently vacated rectory as a homeless shelter. They had heard that a local church, St. Andrew’s Lutheran, was looking for a new place to send homeless folks after a motel it had been using was being remodeled.
A little ‘divine inspiration’
Farrell quickly got on board and helped get the project approved by the parish and finance councils. The passion of the three women, plus Farrell’s 15-year background, not to mention the fact that this idea fits squarely into the parish’s pillar of social justice, made the proposal impossible to deny.
“It’s a little divine inspiration that I happen to be here when everything is going down,”?said Farrell, who has been working at the parish for the last five years. “My background really lends itself to helping get this off the ground. I know all the pitfalls and all the rewards the volunteers will receive from taking on this outreach ministry.”
The nearly 7,000-square-foot building will open on Labor Day, Sept. 3, with seven bedrooms available for families to stay overnight, plus one bedroom for volunteers to spend the night. Transportation will be provided to parents from St. Andrew’s, and children will be bused to and from school each day. Two meals per day also will be served. The parish has named the shelter Hope for the Journey Home.
“There’s a variety of ways that people come to be in circumstances that are really difficult, and aren’t we all called to help each other?” Simmet said. “That [house] comes out of a strong belief that we are all on the journey together.”
Though Washington County is an affluent region overall, poverty still exists. Data gathered by the county in a Point in Time survey showed that there were 313 homeless persons in 2011. Hope for the Journey Home will be able to accommodate up to six families a night.
“I think this [poverty in the county] is an eye opener,”?Simmet said. “You don’t have to go to the east side of St. Paul or north Minneapolis. These are our neighbors who, over the last decade, have really fallen on hard times. Homelessness is in the suburbs. I think we have to respond to what’s happening right in our own neighborhoods, in our own communities.”
The good news is that the costs are minimal. The largest cash outlay has been about $80,000 to renovate the rectory, Farrell said. St. Andrew’s will be paying much of the ongoing costs to house the homeless. Money the church was spending to put homeless people up on the motel now will be diverted to Guardian Angels.
In fact, one of the parish’s greatest investments will be labor. So far, more than 100 people have stepped forward to work at the home once it’s open, and more have pitched in to do prep work. Plus, people at more than 40 other local churches have signed on to help.
“I think it’s really exciting; it allows different churches to get to know each other, and it brings people together in a common cause.”?Simmet said. “There are just lots of wonderful reasons to do this.
“It takes so many hands and feet and hearts and prayers to really make this happen,” she added. “And yet, at the end of the day, we hope that this is temporary. We hope that all of these folks find housing and that the need for shelter doesn’t continue, that people are able to find affordable housing and have good living-wage jobs and that they don’t need this shelter anymore. That would be our long-term goal.”