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By Renee Bettendorf
MENOMONIE – A group of local Freemasons put their carpentry skills to work recently by building bed frames for a new Dunn County homeless shelter.
Stepping Stones, an organization located in Menomonie, offers services to homeless and low income families and individuals. They will open the new shelter, called Carin Shelter, next week.
Jon Oakland, a local Freemason, started volunteering at Stepping Stones after retirement. He now works there part time and learned that Stepping Stones didn’t get any bids on a very key component for the new shelter: bed frames. When they looked into buying bed frames the cost was surprisingly high.
“It was going to be $1,200 apiece to buy them and I thought we could build these,” said Oakland.
And build they did. Stepping Stones bought the materials and a group of Freemasons cut lumber and painted. They had a few work sessions to get all the parts built. Then on Saturday they got a group together to assemble the frames at the shelter and put them in the rooms.
Cairn Shelter is the first of its kind in Dunn County. The 20 bed facility features single bedroom units each with a private bathroom. The building will be staffed 24 hours a day and has common areas including a kitchen and laundry facilities.
In 2021 Stepping Stones collaborated with the City of Menomonie and applied for a Neighborhood Investment Fund Grant from the State of Wisconsin. They were awarded $1.4 million to build the shelter, according to Stepping Stones website.
“It’s very nice,” said Oakland. “It’s a great thing for Dunn County”.
Stepping Stones has been involved in housing the homeless for almost 30 years. In 1994 they opened their first shelter, then in 2014 they added another shelter. Carin Shelter is quite a large expansion and even though the shelter is not yet open, it’s already full.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Bill Tice, one of the Freemasons who helped build the bed frames. “It’s going to be beneficial for the homeless.”
Currently, Stepping Stones rents six to 10 hotel rooms every night to house local homeless folks. They also own two houses in Menomonie that are used to house the homeless. Hopefully, with the Cairn Shelter up and running, Stepping Stones will rely less on hotel rooms.
But it’s hard to predict how much housing will be needed on a day to day basis. For example, sometimes houses burn down and families need places to stay.
According to Stepping Stones’ website, in 2021 they sheltered 157 households including 71 children. They provided 9,279 total shelter nights with the average stay lasting 32 days. For every household receiving shelter, there are two on a waiting list.
While at Stepping Stones, residents work with shelter staff to secure permanent housing, find or maintain employment, pursue education goals and access resources to become self-sufficient.
An open house is planned for November 14 with residents moving in the following day.
The Menomonie Area Freemasons Lodge 164 is the only remaining Freemasons in Dunn County. It has several members from Boyceville, Colfax and Glenwood City.