By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – The operation of a transitional shelter built to provide hope to the community’s displaced individuals is uncertain as the board that oversees it announced that it will close Dec. 5, if another agency does not come forward to take over its administration.
The Frederic Ozanam Transitional Shelter opened in 2014 to guide individuals and families from homelessness to self-sufficiency. The shelter’s mission was not just to provide a home but to give the people it aids the means to access a permanent place in the community.
The shelter has served 400 individuals and 122 families throughout its existence. Residents are administered by a staff of just six individuals.
The shelter is a sister entity of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) built on community donations. Its operations also depended on community support, both by financial means and volunteerism.
Tom Youngwith, vice president for the St. Vincent de Paul board of directors and spokesperson for the group, said that the closing was a combination of two factors: a failure to build a cohesive work staff and failure to create sufficient resources.
“I’ve been on the board for three years. I’ve seen three directors come and go,” he stated.
Paula Jero, director of the Marshfield Area United Way that partially funds the shelter, added that the staff that administers to the shelter was not equipped to handle the issues that afflict today’s homeless.
“It’s not easy work,” she said. “When people arrive at a homeless shelter, there are such long-standing issues already. It’s not their first step; it is one of their last steps.
“I just don’t think that they were expecting the mental health issues, the drug and alcohol addictions, and things like that. They were expecting a much more simple (issue, such as) a person who just lost their job and needs to get back on their feet and that’s just not the reality of who is homeless now-a-days.”
More recently, a group of local professionals were brought together to form a shelter board of directors to help turn operations around at the shelter and address the needs that the residents have, allowing them to move forward and progress; however, efforts to initiate the movement fell apart and the SVDP board of directors made the decision to separate from the shelter.
“We need to find someone else to run it successfully,” Youngwith said. “We feel a commitment to the community to have the facility continue as a shelter.”
Youngwith said that their primary concerns now are to find an agency to take over operations at the shelter and to find a new shelter for the people currently residing there.
The shelter currently serves as home for 13 families with 22 children.
“We are in conversations with some agencies right now,” Youngwith said, adding that there was a potential for a new agency to take over before the Dec. 5 shutdown. “I would hope if things go right there will not be a shutdown.”
“I do know at this point that there are two different organizations that have some interest in running that and continuing as a shelter,” Jero said. “St. Vincent de Paul, however, has an interest in selling the building and the price of the building, the price for the sale, is not real conducive to a non-profit kind of moving forward with that.”
The Ozanam shelter, now the Marshfield Family Shelter is located at 505 E. Depot St., Marshfield.