By Kayla Langmaid and Kayle Paul
A two-story white house with an eye-catching maroon door with no signs could be the most welcoming house on Broadway Street in Winona.
For over 22 years, the Winona Catholic Worker houses on West Broadway Street have been the only services in Winona County for those in need.
In Winona County in 2013 there was about a 15 percent poverty rate, according to the United States Census Bureau.
The Bethany House has provided a safe space to go for free meals, warm showers and a washer and dryer.
There is an initiative within the Winona Catholic Worker movement to promote action within the Winona community to help those in need, Rachel Stoll, a current live-in volunteer said.
The house relies solely on volunteers to maintain open hospitality.
Stoll said 5 to 10 volunteers hang out during open hospitality hours to make people feel welcome.
Most meals are provided by families and churches in the community.
“There are so many families who are willing to do that and that makes it easy to be a live-in volunteer,” Stoll said.
The meal was served at 5:30 p.m., in the bright yellow kitchen just as it is every Wednesday.
As eight men entered the house for open hospitality, a cat purred nearby, and volunteers carried on conversations with them as though they had just arrived home to their family from a busy day.
After the meal, two men played chess.
It was routine and relationships were being built.
“What we try to do here is make it as non institutional as possible,” Stoll said.
A vital helping hand for homelessness in Winona
Winona Volunteer Services is the main hub of communication for individuals seeking information about where to go to deal with homelessness issues.
Kay Peterson who has worked for Winona Volunteer Services as a client services coordinator for 10 years connects with people who battle homelessness and poverty on a daily basis.
These people contact Winona Volunteer Services looking for information about where to stay or where to go to receive free services.
“I talk to three to five people or families a week about services in the Winona area,” Peterson said.
As of right now, there are no places to stay overnight in the Winona area.
Volunteer services provide bus passes for to shelters in Rochester or La Crosse due to this lack of overnight beds.
“I don’t like sending family to shelters because then they have to pull their kids out of school, that’s why it’s so important to provide places to stay in Winona,” said Peterson.
From Peterson’s perspective, there is homelessness in Winona due to a lack of affordable housing or a place for people in transition who just need a few weeks to get back on their feet.
Overnight housing underway
The Dan Corcoran House – a few houses down from the Bethany House – is currently closed due to renovations.
In October there was only one live-in volunteer and providing overnight housing wasn’t an option.
Stoll and five other live-in volunteers moved into the Bethany House this month, which divided the workload.
Stoll said once the Dan Corcoran House reopens, women and children could stay as overnight guests.
There are at least ten unused beds available at the houses, Kay Peterson, service coordinator at Winona Volunteer Services said.
“Once we get our overnight houses up to snuff, we are very excited to be open again for overnight guests,” she said.
Homelessness – it can happen to anyone
Dale Hadler of Minneapolis said he has regularly attended open hospitality almost every day.
Hadler said he had been unemployed for quite awhile and was briefly homeless in Minneapolis.
He temporary worked in Kentucky before he moved to Winona.
Hadler previously attended the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse where he received two master degrees.
For Hadler, he said it’s not that hard to be in the position to need assistance.
Hadler recalled having coffee with the vice president of the United States in 1996 in Minneapolis.
“That’s where I was at one point,” Hadler said.
People believe if they save money, plan and do the right thing then they won’t become homeless, according to Hadler.
“Due to the wrong set of circumstances, homelessness could happen to anyone,” he said.
With white hair and weary eyes, Hadler said, “People who come here have no place to stay – literally begging for a place to stay and it’s not here.”
Hadler said he enjoys going to open hospitality because he likes to be around other people.
“It’s socialization and it’s a good place to be around and I’m a sociable person,” Hadler said.
Hadler expressed his concernment about people not understanding why homelessness occurs.
“You have to say ‘this could be me’ and I think that’s what everyone has to understand,” he said.
Kay Peterson, a client services coordinator at Winona Volunteer Services, talks about why she thinks there is homelessness in the Winona area.