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The La Crosse Warming Center is on target to open in its new digs Nov. 1, courtesy of a unique partnership between nonprofit and for-profit ventures, successful fundraising for the $375,000 project and volunteers’ sweat


Several volunteers wielded rollers and brushes Friday to paint the 5,000-square-foot facility as the renovation of the former Schneider Heating and Air Conditioning Co. at 413 S. Third St. nears completion.

“We have a lot of community support for this rather remarkable transformation of this building,” said Deacon Richard Sage, executive director of Catholic Charities of the La Crosse Diocese, which will run the center and have some offices there.

In August, Catholic Charities announced a $150,000 fund drive to cover the gap between the expected costs of $250,000 to $275,000 and the bids of $350,000 reached after some cuts, Sage said. At the time, the project had attracted $200,000 in donations.

“We needed $150,000, and we got a little more. We got hundreds of donations,” Sage said Friday as he worked with volunteers. “Volunteers were crucial to the operation from demolition to toward the end, painting and cleaning up and when we move.”

Renovation began in August after volunteers completed minor demolition that saved $25,000 before turning the work over to general contractor Fowler and Hammer.

A few glitches cropped up that made opening Nov. 1 seem iffy, Sage said, adding, “There were a couple of little delays and surprises like opening a wall and finding that footings needed replacing.”

Catholic Charities sought grants from United Way, Shopko and others, which covered the costs of appliances, he said.

“Wettstein’s gave us a great deal” on a washer and dryer, dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, microwave, two freezers and a 60-inch TV for $5,000, Sage said.

The new Warming Center will accommodate 30 homeless people overnight, compared with the 19 at its predecessor at First Baptist Church at 1209 Main St. It includes showers and laundry facilities, amenities that were not available at First Baptist.

Free clothing also will be available, inspired by a lesson Catholic Charities learned when it opened a 48-bed shelter in Eau Claire in 2011 — that many clients had only the clothes on their backs, Sage said.

Lutheran Social Services launched the center in First Baptist Church with grant funding in 2010, and Catholic Charities took it over in 2011. Severe weather last winter underscored the need to expand, as the Warming Center saw demand increase 33 percent in the number of people served, the La Crosse Center was used for shelter on a couple of brutally cold nights, and Wesley United Methodist Church opened its doors at night for nearly a month.

The building also will house some Catholic Charities offices, including St. Lawrence Community Services, which helps people with basic needs such as rent, utilities, groceries and shelter; the agency’s Immigration Department, which served about 300 people from 31 countries last year; and a program to help people on fixed incomes with budgeting and other needs.

The project is a joint venture between Catholic Charities and Rick Staff and his wife, Nancy Gerrard. Staff, president and legal counsel of Gerrard-Hoeschler Realtors in La Crosse and Onalaska, and Gerrard have an option to buy the building and are leasing it to Catholic Charities for $1 a year.

The couple is starting a $175,000 fund drive to buy the building and put it into a nonprofit trust to be used as a warming shelter in perpetuity. People interested in donating to that can email Staff at

“Plans don’t stop here,” Staff said Friday. “They include a future daytime facility” that may be purchased soon and would offer educational programs to help people escape homeless situations.



Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(1) comment


Best wishes and congratulations to Deacon Sage, Catholic Charities, Gerrard/Staff and the community for supporting this great facility.

"Plans don’t stop here,” Staff said Friday. “They include a future daytime facility” that may be purchased soon and would offer educational programs to help people escape homeless situations".

Go for it! Help people, help themselves!

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