House of Mercy suite improved for volunteers

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, October 3, 2013

JANESVILLE—House of Mercy overnight volunteer Ann Pikalek said improvements to the homeless center have created “a warmer, homier feeling."

The five-year volunteer from Clinton also said new quarters for overnight volunteers, which were moved from the front of the building to the back, are quieter and better for sleeping.

The suite has a spacious, handicapped-accessible private bathroom with a shower and a separate thermostat to control heat and air conditioning.

More than half a dozen local companies donated supplies and time to make improvements worth "well into six figures," said Erin Loveland, operations coordinator.

The suite includes two twin beds, plus a TV and camera that monitors several areas of the 25-bed homeless center, which is located at 320 Lincoln St. and provides short-term housing for single women and families in addition to support services by partner agencies.

Volunteers also have access to a break room with a refrigerator and microwave, she said.

The improvements couldn't come at a better time, Loveland said, because the number of volunteers is down.

“We have a special need for overnight volunteers; that's where we're struggling the most,” she said.

The shelter has 25 to 30 overnight volunteers.

“Ideally, we would like to have at least 45 to 50 in case somebody is sick or needs time off,” Loveland said.

Overnight shifts are 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Volunteers are responsible for locking doors at 10 p.m., locking up medications, posting a chore list, stripping beds in the morning, being available for emergencies and letting in residents who work late.

Loveland hopes the improvements, which were completed Aug. 30, will help attract  new volunteers, Loveland said.

The number of volunteers is down, she said, because many who were unemployed during the recession have gone back to work.

Volunteers donate a total of between 7,000 and 8,000 hours each year. Those hours peaked at 9,600 in 2012, and at least half were accumulated by overnight volunteers, Loveland said.

 “We want the volunteers to know we appreciate them enough to enhance their feeling of security. We really value their time and want to make them comfortable, as well,” she said.

Mercy Health System opened House of Mercy in August 1996 to fill the need for  emergency shelter for the homeless in the area.

The center also offers a parenting group, child care and monthly cooking classes.

Between August 1996 and December 2011, House of Mercy provided shelter and support to nearly 5,000 people. More than half were children.

House of Mercy is typically filled to capacity and has a waiting list, Loveland said.

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