Guardian Angels Teams Up With Area Churches to Offer County's First Homeless Shelter

Guardian Angels Catholic Church is transforming one of its vacant rectories into an overnight homeless shelter — the first of its kind in Washington County.

Guardian Angels Catholic Church is making use of one of its old rectories.

Guardian Angels is working with local churches to transform its rectory into an overnight homeless shelter. This will be the first of its kind in Washington County.

The church used to house staff or retired nuns in the rectory. But as pastors began living in their own homes and the nuns moved on to retire, the church began contemplating new ways to use the facility, said Denny Farrell, the parish administrator. 

That's when a partnership began between Guardian Angels and St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi. St. Andrew's has a Community Resource Center to help families and individuals in the surrounding area.

St. Andrew's CRC acted as a day shelter for families. St. Andrew's partnered with a local motel to house families overnight and bussed children to school. The CRC offered help to the families in finding permanent housing and employment opportunities, Farrell said.

Still, the need to shelter families overnight continued to grow beyond St. Andrew's means. The CRC ended up turning 12-15 families away each week due to a lack of space. 

"There is a need even though some want to think there isn't a need in suburbs," Farrell said.

According to a recent survey, the number of homeless persons on a given night in Washington County jumped from 75 in 2005 to 313 in 2011. As of January, there were 381 homeless persons on a given night, said Diane Elias, an associate planner with Washington County.

Elias noted that in the survey homeless people indicated they find shelter in their vehicles, emergency shelters, hospitals, transition housing, storage facilities, barns, tents, fish houses, outdoors or doubled up with family or friends.

As the problem has continued to grow, some Guardian Angels parishioners decided to step in. Last March, three parishioners spearheaded the project, now called "Hope for the Journey Home." 

Now the rectory is undergoing remodeling and families can begin staying at the new overnight homeless shelter by Sept. 1. The overnight shelter will be run by volunteers from churches across the county, Farrell said.

The shelter will accommodate up to six families. The families will be fed and children will be bussed to school while parents go back to the CRC during the day, Farrell said.

"Our parish is very excited," Farrell said. "It's exciting to see the faith community come together." 


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