The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 13, 2014

Women's shelter opens at Salvation Army

City crafting allocation to help get shelter going

By Robb Murray
The Mankato Free Press

---- — It might not look like much now. But when it comes to giving a homeless woman a place to sleep for the night, they probably won’t care.

Mankato’s Salvation Army on Monday opened a women’s shelter. Previously, they’d only had a shelter for homeless men. But with growing need for shelters for homeless women, the Salvation Army decided to use some of its space to house them.

Kyle Rollings, who runs the men’s shelter, said he’s not sure how many women will use it, but he knows they typically approve two or three vouchers each week for women to stay in nearby hotels. Plus, there are often waiting lists at other shelters, such as Welcome Inn and Theresa House, both run by Partners for Affordable Housing. On Monday night, the shelter’s first, two women came seeking a place to stay the night.

For now the Salvation Army will set up cots on the floor of what used to be their youth center (and they still have some youth activities there). Eventually, though, they hope to have the loft area used for housing homeless women.

Right now that loft isn’t ready for use. Rollings said they plan a renovation that will include new flooring and installation of a second staircase to meet fire codes.

To fund the addition of a women’s shelter, the Salvation Army has the prospect of some financial help from the city of Mankato. The city is still crafting an allocation of $87,525 to help get the place going. For now, though, the shelter is opening by simply using available space and cots.

Rollings said it was just on Friday that he got the final go-ahead to open the shelter. He’s had to add six part-time staff — all women — which is about the same number of men he has working on the men’s side.

Opening a women’s shelter in the same complex as a men’s shelter presented a few concerns.

Rollings said the men and women will only mingle during evening meals. Currently, men have access to shower and laundry facilities when the shelter is open (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.). Women will have access to those facilities, but it will be during business hours.

Security concerns also were raised. Rollings said staff have been talked to about the possibility of boyfriends or estranged husbands showing up at the shelter. Men will not be allowed at all in the shelter. If men show up, they’ll be directed to the men’s side. Police also have been notified and plan to respond accordingly to reports of men waiting in the parking lot.

In the past, Rollings said, they’ve had women come to the Salvation Army who needed help. Without a proper shelter for them, they’d give them vouchers to stay in a hotel.

With an actual shelter that is staffed, Rollings said the cost will be a little more. But in the end, he said, it will be better for the women. Being at the Salvation Army as opposed to a hotel on the highway puts them closer to a free lunch at the facility, as well as closer to government agencies that can help them.

“Plus there’s more of a human element,” Rollings said. “Someone to talk to.”