By Barbara Lyon
Menomonie is among four Western Wisconsin cities to be awarded a grant from the state’s Neighborhood Investment Fund program. On Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers presented a ceremonial check to Mayor Randy Knaack and Padraig Gallagher, executive director of Stepping Stones of Dunn County for more than $1.4 million to build a 20-bed homeless shelter on Stout Road.
“From expanding affordable housing options to strengthening infrastructure and revitalizing our main streets, this grant program was designed to connect the dots in our communities to ensure they recover and succeed for years to come,” said Gov. Evers. “So, I am thrilled to be awarding these funds today to support the good work folks are doing in Rice Lake, Altoona, Menomonie, and Eau Claire to collaborate together to tackle the needs in their communities.”
Ranging from $1 million to $15 million, the grant funds are part of a nearly $650 million investment allocated by the governor for community building and recovery efforts through the American Rescue Plan Act.
“The recovery money we received from the federal government really is set aside for programs like yours,” Evers said. “It’s really important we understand how homelessness affects our people and how the pandemic impacted homelessness … and our Main Street businesses as well.”
About the project
Gallagher noted that homelessness is a systemic problem: “Stepping Stones provided an unprecedented number of shelter nights in 2021 – over 9,000 shelter nights in a city that’s over 15,000 people and a county that only 45,000 people. That’s basically equivalent to 1 in 5 Dunn County residents having to spend one night in shelter.”
Following approval by the Menomonie City Council on Nov. 1, 2021, City Administrator Lowell Prange submitted an application for the grant. A collaborative project, the new homeless shelter will be built on property that Stepping Stones owns at 1620 Stout Road adjacent to its main offices and food pantry. West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission will serve as the grant administrators, while Cedar Falls Building Systems will prepare the site plans and serve as general contractor. As the property owner, Stepping Stones will manage the project and operate the shelter upon its completion.
A 5,800-square-foot facility focused on housing homeless individual adults will provide sleeping accommodations for up to 20 clients in single-bed rooms, each with a private bathroom to ensure privacy to minimize the risk associated with congregate living during pandemics as well as isolate those who are sick. A laundry room and secure storage will also help with clients’ material needs. In addition to a small commercial kitchen and community dining area, there will be a community resource office for partner agency services, shelter staff offices and a main staff desk with visibility of all common areas.
Gallagher told the governor, “This is going to be a real game-changer for our ability to meet the needs of homelessness in Menomonie. It’s just gone through the roof since the pandemic, but honestly it was a problem before that.”
About the city’s partnership with Stepping Stones, Knaack added, “It’s people helping people and that’s what it’s all about.”
Barbara Lyon is the communications specialist for Stepping Stones of Dunn County. She can be reached at email@example.com or 715-235-2920, ext. 206.