Barron County’s only homeless shelter in danger of disappearing - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Barron County’s only homeless shelter in danger of disappearing

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Rice Lake (WQOW)- Funding is drying up at Barron County's one and only homeless shelter.  By the end of April, the shelter could be forced to shut its doors for the last time.

"It doesn't matter where you come from, this is a fresh start," points out resident Shawn Williams.

A fresh start that may be coming to an end.  Benjamin's House is a homeless shelter in Rice Lake that allows residents who are down on their luck to stay for up to 90 days or until they get back on their feet.

"They are at their lowest points in their lives; divorces, lost their jobs, lay-offs, got kicked out of their friend's house, anything and everything that you could think of by no fault of their own mainly," remembers Benjamin's House Case Worker Christy Madison.

"You are pretty much at the bottom emotionally," admits Williams.  "You just feel like you can't get up from where you are at.  They've been able to uplift your spirits and show you that you're worth being here."

It takes about $225,000 a year to keep the facility running.  $75,000 comes in the form of government grants, and private donations take care of the rest.  But at Monday's board meeting, the shelter learned funding has run dry.

"We've been experiencing some financial difficulties for a few months," says Executive Director Stephanie Thompson.  "Government funding has been cut down and private funding has been cut down.  And we are funded solely by grants and donations."

Seven of the shelter's eight employees were let go that day.

"We got all of the residents together and let them know what was going on and had an entire room of people crying," Thompson remembers.

"It was honestly the worst day of my life; not for the fact that we didn't have jobs, but for the fact that we had to face these people and tell them that there's nowhere to go," Madison reveals.

Many of Barron County's residents have come to recognize Benjamin's House as an important resource in the community, including this 8 year old, who instead of asking for presents for her birthday, asked for guests to give donations to the homeless shelter.

"I asked my friends to donate some money to the Benjamin's House," says Grace Marx.

The shelter is more than just a place to sleep. Guests of Benjamin's House take classes during their stay, including public speaking and resume building. The shelter says it's connected 64 percent of them with jobs.  That's 40 percent above the national average.

"I just got a job here locally in town which is good," smiles Williams.  "Minimum wage but it's better than nothing."

Benjamin's House is the only homeless shelter in Barron County.  If it does close down at the end of April, many of its current residents will once again be homeless.

"The shelters in surrounding counties are full.  There's nowhere for them to go," Madison points out.  "One of our residents has said I will just have to be in my car.  I don't have anywhere to go."

"We are these people's last hope and anything people can do to help is great," says Thompson.

Benjamin's House has only been open for about two years now but in that short amount of time, it's helped more than 250 residents get back on their feet.  The shelter needs about $20,000 a month to continue to operate past that April 30th deadline.

If you would like to donate, you can contact Benjamin's House at (715) 736-2437 or email info@Benjamins-House.org.

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