Habitat for Humanity and warming center volunteer Bert Mohs clears up drywall debris in the remodeled warming center.
by LAURA HAYES
In late September, a group of volunteers gathered in the basement of Community Bible Church to help prepare the Winona Community Warming Center (WCWC) to open in the beginning of November. One of the volunteers discovered mold in the bedroom where guests stayed.
“As soon as we saw it, we said we had to get this taken care of immediately because this is where people are coming to safely come indoors,” WCWC Coordinator Lynette Johnson said. A company came in, broke the walls, and removed the mold, Johnson said. “It’s 100-percent gone,” Johnson assured. But it left them with open walls with which they had to deal.
With the opening of the center in a handful of weeks, WCWC leaders wondered what they were going to do. They spoke about their challenges during a meeting, and afterward, Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Amanda Hedlund asked if Habitat could help out. “You can’t put people who are already in vulnerable circumstances into an unsafe space,” Hedlund said. “We have the volunteers and the skills to do the construction they needed.”
The work fell under Habitat’s “A Brush With Kindness” program that provides exterior home improvements. As part of the program, Habitat provides the labor and the owner pays for the cost of materials. “Our mission is to put God’s love into action,” Hedlund said.
The warming center was started last November by a group of community members. The warming center is open to adults and now falls under the work of Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota. The center provides a safe place for people to stay during the coldest months of the year. Food, laundry, and showers are provided. Johnson said they hope guests’ stays are short-term, “but we’re here for the longterm if needed.”
Johnson calls homelessness the invisible problem of Winona. People don’t think it exists in Winona, she explained. “The community definitely saw a need for it,” she said.
According to Construction Manager John Corcoran, a majority of the work was done in the bedroom. Corcoran and his crew hung new drywall and painted the bedroom and the kitchen. He expects that the work will be completed this week.
“The fact that they’re basically donating their time and their skilled volunteers to be able to do that so that the center is up and running is really compassionate,” Johnson said.
Bert Mohs has volunteered to help renovate the warming center with Habitat and with the WCWC. The center gives them a safe space to get out of the elements and hopefully get on their feet. “You don’t end up in a homeless shelter on a whim. You end up in a warming center because you need a place to stay. And a lot of places, if you’re living on the street, may not be safe,” he said.
The warming center opens on November 1 and runs through March 31. The WCWC is looking for volunteers. The next volunteer orientation will be held on Thursday, October 26, at 6:30 p.m. at Community Bible Church. It is also seeking a number of donations including gift cards to grocery stores and hearty food such as cans of soup. For more information, call Johnson at 507-458-9197 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.