Homeless shelter planned in West Baraboo

December 21, 2018

A homeless shelter will open in West Baraboo, possibly this spring, a new nonprofit announced this week.

The Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter organization has reached a rental agreement with the owner of an as-yet unidentified property in West Baraboo. Once the village grants zoning approval, shelter volunteers will open a year-round shelter.

“It’s exciting,” board President the Rev. David Mowers said. “It’s a little scary.”

The new nonprofit seeks to continue the work of Matt and Rachelle Fearson, who for seven winters ran a warming shelter in the basement of their South Parkway church, Hope Through Christ Ministries. The group has established a board and is seeking federal nonprofit status.

Its goal is to offer food, shelter and support year-round. The group originally planned to rent the Fearsons’ church for the short term, but opted instead for a more permanent location where it will pay only for utility costs. The Fearsons, who have moved to Arizona, are trying to sell the church building.

“We had to make the call about how we use funds that are given to us by donors,” Mowers said.

The West Baraboo location gives the shelter a more affordable and permanent home, but will take longer to establish. This winter, the Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter will direct the community’s homeless to nearby shelters and aid agencies.

“We’re trying to serve the homeless who are before us now and for decades to come,” Mowers said.

Baraboo police haven’t noticed an increase in the number of individuals remaining outside in the cold weather, relative to previous winters when the warming shelter was operating. But they have noted rising numbers of people sleeping in their cars.

“It’s not likely that the homeless population has decreased,” said Sgt. Ryan Werner, a shelter board member. “These individuals may have sought resources or shelter in other communities, or they may simply have avoided contact with law enforcement so far.”

The Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter incorporated in November, emerging from discussions among clergy and civic leaders about how to continue serving the homeless. The nonprofit is raising money and identifying groups that might provide meals and volunteer staff. The shelter may hire paid staff, as well.

“All of it depends on what we can raise,” Mowers said.

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