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Homeless shelter: Making a statement about repaying city loan

The Our Neighbors Place overnight homeless shelter has four units that are fully furnished. This one comes with a bunk bed that Katie Morsch, 31, stands next to. Morsch was hired as Our Neighbors Place director earlier this year. (River Falls Journal photos by Phil Pfuehler.)

Mary Jo Sutton, Our Neighbors Place board president, says making a final mortgage payment and paying off a city loan for the overnight homeless shelter a year ahead of time sends a strong message.

“It should tell the River Falls public and the City Council that we are not a fly-by-night operation, that we keep our word, and that we pay back what we borrow,” she said. “This is very big for us.”

Two years ago the city furnished a $120,000 loan to Our Neighbors Place, interest free, if the money was paid back in three years. That final payment is set to happen before the Tuesday evening, Nov. 12, City Council meeting at City Hall.

That will also mean the overnight shelter’s $250,000 mortgage is paid off -- $130,000 was raised through a vigorous capital campaign led by retired River Falls educator Carole Mottaz.

The fourplex, 17-bed, family homeless shelter opened in October 2011 at 215 W. Cedar St.

The shelter has stayed at full occupancy from day one. There are four families totaling 19 people living there now. Each family can stay a maximum of three months.

While the overnight shelter closed a safety net hole for displaced families in River Falls, and in Pierce and St. Croix counties, one gaping hole remains: Single adults without dependent children.

“We know it’s a huge gap in our shelter coverage,” says Katie Morsch, Our Neighbors Place director since January.

Morsch, the first full-time paid employee in the organization, says she turns away homeless adults, even couples, regularly because the overnight shelter is reserved for parents with children.

“It’s frustrating because we see this every day,” she said.

In addition, Morsch says that since January, 18 families who filled out applications to stay at the overnight shelter in River Falls couldn’t be housed because of full occupancy.

For much more on this story, please see the Nov. 7 print edition of the River Falls Journal.