Connections Ministry file photo

Connections Shelter organizers Erica Koser (left), Collette Broady Grund and overnight staff member Annalise Settergren pack up supplies for the shelter’s first night in 2017. The rotating homeless shelter will start its second season Monday at St. John's Episcopal Church. File photo

MANKATO — Connections Shelter will open for its second season Monday with more churches in the mix and expectations to be at full capacity off the bat.

The homeless shelter, which will rotate between at least eight area churches, reached full capacity within weeks of opening last year and remained at peak until it closed for the season in April.

Rev. Erica Koser of Centenary United Methodist said many guests last year have since transitioned into permanent housing, but still more will need the shelter again this fall.

“I think we’ll be at capacity Monday night,” she said. “I think with the fact it’s a known shelter, we’ll continue to bump up against our max of 25 regularly.”

Of the eight churches signed on to host the shelter this season, seven of them did so last year as well. Canvas Church at 101 Pauley Way is the new addition, joining Centenary, Bethlehem Lutheran, Grace Lutheran, Crossview Covenant, St. John's Episcopal, Covenant Family Church and Christ the King Lutheran Church. 

Another four churches — St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Belgrade Avenue United Methodist, Hosanna Lutheran Church and Holy Rosary Catholic Church — will provide volunteers and/or financial assistance.

Intake will be another change in year two. Rather than checking in each night at Centenary, guests will go through intake wherever the host site is on a given evening. Guests can also reserve spots for the week on Mondays at Centenary’s Holy Grounds morning breakfast, which Koser said should help staff connect guests to support services.  

St. John’s Episcopal Church hosts the first week. Audrey Splinter, who will help coordinate the site again this year, said the lessons learned in year one will only help.

“Having that first year behind us, I think we’ve fine tuned things,” she said.

The church is partnering with St. John the Baptist on volunteering and meals for guests. Splinter said she's hopeful volunteer numbers won't be a problem, although more are always welcome.

Each host site has a different feel, with food varying between snacks and dinners. The shelter takes men, women and children, distinguishing it from the longtime men's shelter operated by The Salvation Army. 

The presence of an overnight shelter manager will also be new this year. Last year volunteers were always on site, while the manager wasn’t necessarily there.

Jenn Valimont, the new manager, comes with previous experience working with the homeless in Alabama. She moved to Mankato last year and distinctly remembers what came to mind when bitter cold hit.

“My very first thought was ‘Oh my goodness, what does the homeless community do in this kind of weather?’” she recalled.

The organizers’ shelter experience last year ignited interest in pursuing a permanent shelter. The rotating set-up is thought of as the best way to serve the homeless population until such a facility can be established, Valimont said.

“That’s our hope and vision is there will be something permanent for our friends in this community who experience homelessness,” she said.

The more immediate focus will be on fundraising to keep the shelter going until April 15. Koser said fundraising for the $65,000 to $70,000 needed for operations is ahead of schedule compared to last year.

“We still have a lot of fundraising to do,” she said. “We’re about halfway through right now.”

The shelter served at least 168 people experiencing homelessness last season. Another 350 people volunteered at one of the host sites. For more information, visit www.connectionsmankato.org.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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