An emergency shelter subcommittee of the Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition worked consistently from 2000-2005 to create an emergency shelter option for those who, for various reasons, did not qualify to stay at the other homeless shelters in the Green Bay area. However, the efforts of the subcommittee were thwarted over and over again by two factors: a lack of funding, and the lack of a site for such a shelter.
A casual conversation at the Blackstone restaurant in the summer of 2005, between members of StreetLights Outreach and Fr. Guy Blair, the new pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, solved one of the issues. Fr. Blair offered the gymnasium of the former St. John the Evangelist School for a temporary homeless shelter.
The Next Step, a non-profit organization headed by Karina and Lou O’Malley, provided the other answer in terms of funding. With a substantial donation, the O’Malley’s provided funding for facility and staff costs for one year. The Next Step served as the lead organization for COTS (Churches Offering Temporary Shelter) which was developed to oversee the day to day operations of the shelter for the 2005-2006 season. Karina O’Malley served as the chairperson of the COTS Advisory Committee. It was decided that the shelter would open on November 19, 2005 and offer shelter until April 1. Pastor Tony Madden became the first director. From the start, it was decided that COTS would be a low-entry-threshold shelter that would keep people safe through the winter while they worked on long-term solutions. The Crisis Center provided case management. Healthcare for the Homeless offered medical services on Thursday mornings. While the shelter opened with the intent that meal service would be provided at The New Community Shelter, guests were oftentimes skipping the meal in order to get out of the cold. So, simple meals were served on occasion during this first season, though not on a consistent basis. Paul’s Pantry was helpful in securing basic food supplies. A Request for Proposal was developed by the COTS Advisory Committee to pursue an interested party to operate the shelter for the 2006-2007 season. In June, 2006, Karina O’Malley stepped down as the chairperson of the COTS Advisory Committee. Kathy McMurray agreed to serve as chair for the following season and the Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition became the overarching entity charged with shelter operations.
More changes were in store for the 2006/2007 season. The day to day oversight of COTS was shifted to Family Services and specifically the Crisis Center as they positively replied to the Request for Proposal offered by COTS. Staff at the Crisis Center served as supervisors for the shelter, with Laurie Resch serving as director and Eric Butters taking on day to day oversight of the shelter operation. The name of the shelter was changed to Brown County Churches Offering Temporary Shelter (BC-COTS) in order to avoid confusion with the COTS program in Appleton and other parts of the country. A Conditional Use Permit (CUP) was secured from the City of Green Bay on November 8, 2006 to operate for one season.
In the summer of 2007, a program called Safe Step was developed and proposed by the New Community Shelter. This emergency shelter was to be located on Mather Street across from the New Community Shelter. The Green Bay City Council approved the first reading of the CUP for this shelter and on the same night also passed a resolution creating a moratorium on the issuing of any additional permits for homeless shelters. At the second reading, two weeks later, the City Council voted down the CUP for Mather Street. Fr. Blair, Deacon Tim Reilly, and Mayor Jim Schmitt worked out a compromise that the New Community Shelter could operate their emergency shelter at the St. John the Evangelist School gym site. On October 31, 2007, the Board of Directors of New Community Shelter unanimously voted down the operation of a shelter at the St. John the Evangelist site. On November 2, 2007, Deacon Reilly delivered a letter from Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Green Bay, to Mayor Schmitt. The letter indicated that the Catholic Church was exercising its first amendment right to give shelter to the homeless and would open St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter at the St. John site during the following week.
The Diocese of Green Bay became the oversight body and created an Advisory Board for shelter operations. Mary Marks, from St. Vincent de Paul, was named Shelter Director as SVdP generously donated her time to the shelter. With this new structure in place, the Diocese was able to secure a CUP during the early months of 2008.
On April 23, 2008, the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter became a corporation of its own, while remaining a Catholic organization in relationship to the Diocese of Green Bay. Archbishop Dolan, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Green Bay, served as the Chair of the Board of Directors, Deacon Tim Reilly the President, and Dan Robinson the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Bishop David Ricken became Chair when he was installed as the Bishop of Green Bay on August 28, 2008. Again, a CUP was secured from the City of Green Bay. Mary Kelly was named Executive Director of the shelter to allow Mary Marks to continue her fulltime position with St. Vincent de Paul.
With a deteriorating building, the shelter Board of Trustees decided to embark on a capital campaign to secure funds for shelter improvements. With a generous donation by an individual, and other donations by community members, the necessary funding was secured to renovate the shelter for the 2009-2010 season. A CUP was again granted to the shelter in June, 2009. The dedication of the newly renovated St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter was held on October 28, 2009.
In June, 2010, a three-year CUP was granted by the City of Green Bay to the shelter. In the new Operational Plan that accompanied the CUP, First United Methodist Church was listed as an overflow site for women. Reverends Paul and Sarah Johnson offered the church site when the numbers exceeded what was allowed for in the new CUP.
In September, 2010, Fr. Guy Blair left St. John the Evangelist Parish for a new ministry assignment in South Dakota. The shelter honored the contributions of one of its founders by naming the shelter gymnasium “The Blair Family Shelter”.
In June, 2012, Mary Kelly retired as the Executive Director of the shelter. Alexia Wood was hired on June 4, 2012, to become the next shelter Executive Director. Additional shower stalls and toilets were added in the summer to meet the needs of the expanding guest population.
In August, 2012, a three-year CUP and accompanying updated Operational Plan was approved by the Green Bay City Council. The Operational Plan called for an overflow space at the shelter of 20 spaces, bringing the shelter capacity to 84. Two classrooms on the school corridor were designated as overflow space for these additional guests. In November of that year Mayor Schmitt called into question the 84 capacity. He instructed the Welfare and Protection Committee to form a task force to study homelessness in the downtown area. This task force formally became known as HOPE and began deliberations in January, 2013. Alexia Wood represented St. John’s Shelter on the HOPE task force which looked to address the need for a daytime solution.
Due to the growing need, overflow space was added at St. Norbert College with the invitation to use the Pennings Activity Center by President Tom Kunkel, Fr. Jay Foster, O.Praem., and Dan Robinson. This overflow space was utilized over the semester break. St. Willebrord Parish, at the invitation of Fr. Andy Cribben, O.Praem. became the additional overflow space for guests when St. Norbert College was no longer available with classes resuming in late January.
In the fall of 2013, the HOPE taskforce looked to begin a build out on a lease for the basement of the Wisconsin Job Center to open a daytime resource center. The landlord pulled out of the lease citing concerns from other tenants. The HOPE taskforce then looked to sign a lease with a landlord who owned a warehouse facility in the downtown area. In April 2014, the landlord pulled the lease on this agreement citing concerns from other tenants. Deacon Reilly, Mike Westenberg (chair of the Board of Trustees) and Tony Pichler (past chair of the Board of Trustees) met to discuss the mission of St. John’s Shelter and the need for a daytime resource center. They then met with Alexia Wood and discussed the need for St. John’s Shelter to take on this additional ministry. A building was secured in July and St. John’s Homeless Shelter closed on the property in August 2014. Renovations quickly began and a year round daytime resource center opened to all homeless residents, regardless of which shelter they resided in, on October 29, 2014.