GIFTS Men's Shelter considers moving resource center, shelter to Washington Street building

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Shelly Birkelo
July 8, 2015

JANESVILLE--GIFTS Men's Shelter wants to move its resource center and eventually its shelter to a vacant building at 1025 N. Washington St.

The organization sent about 120 letters to neighbors and nearby businesses inviting them to a Tuesday, July 21, meeting about its plans, GIFTS Executive Director Stephanie Burton said.

Partner nonprofit agencies, churches and leaders in the community also are being invited, Burton said.

GIFTS wants to use the building as its main offices and resource center and eventually its men's homeless shelter, she said.

The building is owned by S&P Real Estate Investments Janesville. It formerly housed a home health business.

“This is going to be a lease with an option to purchase,” Burton said.

The building has about 10,000 square feet, including 3,000 square feet in the basement that would be perfect as sleeping quarters for the program's men, Burton said.

Those who attend the July 21 meeting will learn about plans for the building, its history and the operations of the men's homeless shelter, Burton said.

“We invite and welcome any questions neighbors may have,” Burton said.

Members of the GIFTS board of directors will go door-to-door in the neighborhood the week of July 13 talking to those unable to attend the July 21 meeting.

Members already met with nearby business owners and reached out to Janesville School District officials because Washington Elementary School is a couple blocks away.

A meeting with Police Chief Dave Moore also is planned.

A summary of GIFTS' strategic plan, which includes goals for the next three to five years, was enclosed with the letters.

GIFTS operates its resource center out of Trinity Episcopal Church on West Court Street. At the center, homeless men develop life recovery plans, connections with community services and mentors.

The shelter rotates weekly between churches. The shelter this year expanded its operations to include summer months.

The goal is to move the resource center into the Washington Street building in October and start using it as a shelter by December 2016 “if everything falls into place,” Burton said.

The organization will ask the city to rezone the property from B-3 general commercial to O-1 offices and sleeping. Online city records show the building and land are assessed at $353,000.

“If we can't get an occupancy permit and rezoned, we can't pursue this building,” Burton said.

A 6-foot privacy fence is planned for the back yard.

“We want neighbors to know we're there to beautify and bring life to that property and neighborhood. We're not just a place to hang out. We're a place where the guys can come, work on their situations and put the pieces of their lives back together,” Burton said.

GIFTS has been in Janesville neighborhoods at churches since 2007, “and the majority of people don't even know that because the ministry has policies in place to ensure we are good neighbors,” she said.

Moving the resource center would improve the services GIFTS is able to provide. It also would mean better privacy when the men meet with mentors and representatives of community agencies and provide more space for life skills and Bible classes, Burton said.

“Trinity has been amazing to house the resource center and put programming in place there, but, ultimately, that space is just too small, and we've outgrown that. It's just inadequate,” she said.

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