MERIDEN — It has been a long journey, but the new shelter for women and children in the immediate area has finally opened its doors.
On Monday, the house located just outside of Meriden next to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church started taking in referrals, conducting interviews, and running background checks. By next week, the executive director of the home known as Rachel’s Light is predicting all the available rooms and beds will be full.
“I woke up to 30 emails this morning,” Amanda Starks said on the second day of taking applications. “That just confirms how awful the need here really is.”
Homelessness is real and right here in the Steele County area, which is precisely why a group of concerned people in the community felt compelled to assure that women and children who found themselves homeless would have a temporary home following the closing of the Lily Sparrow House in 2017.
While the spirit of the Lily Sparrow House — largely its Christian theme — will still be present within Rachel’s Light, the new board had stated that there will be some key differences to make note of. The biggest difference is that Rachel’s Light is a 501©(3) non-profit organization, which allows the organization to fund raise. Starks stated that Rachel’s Light will also provide a more formal programming piece to assist families in connecting with community resources to establish long-term housing.
“The first 45 days someone is here we want to just help them get back on track with some of the small things, whether that’s medical care or childcare,” Starks said, noting that the official program at the home will be 90 days. “But we also want to just allow them to have a moment where they can take a deep breath and reset.”
During the second part of the program, Starks said that they will take action in helping the women find their “next steps” that will lead to stable housing, whether that be finding long-term employment or possibly going back to school.
“We just want to help them be in a different place,” she added. “There is such a stigma to homelessness, but it’s not always as simple as those stereotypes. A majority of the time people are working really hard but for one reason or another just can’t make it work to find safe, long-term housing.”
Starks, who has a background in psychology and business, stated that developing structure and routine into an individual’s life is the best way to help eliminate chaos.
The house, which has 12 beds and four rooms, will take in women and children who are experiencing any type of temporary homelessness. According to Starks, that can range from living in toxic situations, couch-surfing, and potentially domestic situations.
“We are not a shelter, however,” Starks asserted. “We can’t take in people who are fleeing or hiding from an abusive partner, but we will absolutely connect you with the right organization that can help.”
The children can be either gender and up to the age of 18 so long as they are still in school. Because of potential trauma triggers, Starks stated that there are no men allowed in the home unless it is a professional appointment that is properly set up through the appropriate channels and house staff.
“Unfortunately, we’re not an emergency shelter right now,” Starks added. “We have to conduct background checks for the safety of everyone, but maybe someday we will be able to continue to grow.”
In order to grow, Starks said that it will take the power and support of the entire community.
“I don’t think Owatonna knows how bad the homelessness is here,” Starks said, stating that more than 100 children in the Owatonna school district experience homelessness at some point throughout the school year. “It’s not that the community doesn’t care, it’s just a lack of knowledge, so we want to help make our community more aware of this need.”
Several fundraising and community events are scheduled in the upcoming months to help get the community involved in Rachel’s Light. On Saturday, Sept. 14, the organization will be hosting a “Big Rummage Sale” with proceeds benefiting the home. The sale will be at Associated Church in Owatonna from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Donation items will be accepted on Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Electronics over a year old, undergarments, and any pressed wood furniture cannot be accepted. Starks said that the sale will be all free-will donations.
There will be a house blessing for Rachel’s Light on Sunday, Sept. 29, from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. with refreshments provided by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Meriden at 2781 SW 92nd Avenue in Waseca. On Nov. 3, the organization will be hosting an “Open Table” soup supper and silent auction in recognition of Homeless Awareness Month.