WINONA, Minn. — The first night, five people showed up, needing a warm place to spend the night. By February, the place will likely be full most nights.
"It'll pick up as it goes along," said Lynette Johnson, Winona Community Warming Center Outreach Coordinator for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota. "Once word gets around we're open, more people will show up."
This winter, there's room for more at the Winona warming center, located in the basement of Community Bible Church in downtown Winona. The church, seeing the need and working with Catholic Charities, donated more space in its basement to be used for the warming center.
Then, Habitat for Humanity of Winona-Fillmore Counties and Ames Construction worked to make that extra space function as a safe environment for adults in need of a warm place to sleep.
Amanda Hedlund, executive director for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, said her crews built shelves, painted rooms and generally helped do the minor construction and renovation needed to convert the space into a welcoming place for homeless individuals.
"We sent our senior retired volunteer crew down here," she said. "They work Wednesdays and Thursdays and John (Corcoran, Habitat's construction manager) might have arranged a few sessions and get them out of their comfort zone."
A big helping hand came last spring from Ames Construction, Johnson said. The company that renovated Winona's Highway 43 bridge signed up last December to bring a meal to guests at the warming center one night. From there, Ames Construction reached out to ask if it could help with any building needs.
Johnson said the construction firm, donating its time and talent during a slow period of bridge construction, built a wall to create a secure space for storage bins for guests. Ames also converted the old kitchen space into bathrooms – doubling the bathroom space in the center – and converted the old sleeping space into a kitchen and lounge area.
"We had a lot of electrician and plumbing costs," Johnson said. To meet those needs, Catholic Charities created a targeted fundraising campaign for the project. Another Winona manufacturer, Alliant Castings, did a matching program.
With so many groups and individuals pitching in, much of the work was completed by the time Ames Construction needed to focus again on the bridge. It was then that Habitat's crews filled the gap and finished what was left.
Hedlund said donated doors were custom fit into spaces. Door trim was donated then stained by students at Minnesota State College-Southeast from the construction degree program. A handicapped-accessible tub was installed, the laundry room was completed, floors were finished and, just in time for the Nov. 1 opening of the warming center for the winter, the job was done.
"We had our first snow five days in," Johnson said, "so I was glad we got it all done."
Community Bible Church donates the utilities which, considering that includes laundry, is not insignificant, Johnson said. And there's a sign-up online for people to come share a meal with those in need.
"That's something that's hard to get, a good, home-cooked meal, when you're in this situation," Johnson said. In fact, people can sign up online at www.ccsomn.org then click "Warming Centers" under the program tab.
Most guest are adults who lost their home either through eviction or other reasons, Johnson said. Many have a job, and most just need a temporary shelter during the cold months.
"These are people who are trying to rebuild their lives, and they just need a helping hand," Johnson said.