Franciscan Hospitality House

Bishop William Callahan says a blessing prayer Wednesday at the Franciscan Hospitality House at 114 Sixth St. N. Seated to Callahan's right is Bishop Jim Arends, head of the La Crosse Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who officiated jointly with Callahan and spoke during the ceremony. The Hospitality House is a collaborative effort among the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Catholic Charities and other agencies.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

How do you provide hospitality in La Crosse for people in need? The answer doesn’t come from one voice.

It takes a Catholic bishop, a Lutheran bishop and a Bible-based church looking to host good work. Add the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities.

It also helps to have the president of a real estate firm, a retired judge, volunteer hairdressers and many other helpers.

Thanks to those individuals and organizations, and several more, there’s a new place for hospitality in La Crosse.

It came about because of a lot of collaboration and the spirit of helping at-risk people in our community — an effort worthy of praise.

During the recent welcoming ceremony at the Franciscan Hospitality House in downtown La Crosse, FSPA Sister Georgia Christensen told the 100 people gathered: “When you get a group of people sitting around in a circle wondering, ‘What does God want us to do,’ great things happen.”

The hospitality house is a new drop-in center for those in need, open 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the Great River Vineyard Church, 114 N. Sixth St. The purpose is to provide respite as well as service for people who are homeless or at-risk for becoming homeless.

“St. Francis interpreted hospitality as welcoming one another in a comforting manner with respect and reverence,” she said.

In that spirit, the new facility offers such basic services as laundry and shower facilities, and hair and foot care.

Guests also can receive legal, financial and mental-health consultation, as well as referrals for job training.

If the coalition that developed the drop-in center sounds familiar, it’s because many of the same groups and individuals were involved in developing a new warming shelter at 413 S. Third St.

The push to shelter the homeless at night during the winter began with Lutheran Social Services in 2010 and was taken over the next year by Catholic Charities.

Thanks to a lot of collaboration, the new shelter opened for its first winter in November 2014.

The new shelter more than doubled capacity of the previous shelter space, and was able to accommodate homeless people for six months instead of five.

The shelter increased from 161 unduplicated guests the last year at the former center to 280 in the new location. Shelter stays went from 2,614 to 6,672 — with more hours each night for activities such as popcorn and movie night.

Eighty percent of the patrons are men; 31 percent told shelter staff that the night before staying in the shelter, they had stayed in the cold.

As Lutheran Bishop Jim Arends told those who came together for the recent dedication of the daytime drop-in center: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t’ have to have this space? But we are in a world where it is necessary, and we have people who care.”

As Catholic Bishop William Callahan told the group: “This is where Jesus is going to be met. The dream of the Franciscan sisters has become a reality, and the reality of the Gospel has come to life.”

Rick Staff, president and legal counsel of Gerrard-Hoeschler Realtors and a strong force with wife Nancy Gerrard behind both the warming and drop-in shelters, called the partnership with the downtown church a perfect fit for daytime use during the week.

It has come together in the spirit of working together, one denomination to another, one individual to another, to help those in our community who are less fortunate.

We are lucky to live in such a caring community that understands the power of collaboration.

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