What was once just an idea that people needing emergency shelter in Columbus could find help in one location is now a reality.

Prayers of blessing were offered Sunday from many of the faithful who support Love Chapel, an outreach program of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches, as staff and volunteers prepared to begin operating Brighter Days Housing.

The first clients — about 20 of them — registered Monday night at the shelter, 421 S. Mapleton St., in what had formerly served as Columbus Township’s firetruck maintenance facility.

The once-cavernous garage now is a modern looking group-housing facility, with bunk rooms for men and women, modern bathrooms and home-like artwork on newly painted walls. The building has all new mechanicals, with the modern touch of allowing the spiral ductwork to be visible from the rooms below.

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Bunk beds provided through a $40,000 grant from Cummins fill the two housing areas, with comfortable foam mattresses and pillows. A shipment of wool blankets arrived Monday morning. Much of the office furniture and chairs was donated by the former Volunteers in Medicine, including throw rugs that warm the concrete floors.

Columbus photographer Bob Anderson, who owns Stillframes on Canvas, donated about 22 pieces of artwork after touring the shelter.

“I’ve always liked to help out in the community, and I asked (Love Chapel executive director) Liz Kestler, ‘How would you like to have some artwork on the wall?'” Anderson said.

He lined the artwork along a wall and began matching it to the rooms where it would best match, including a three-panel piece of flowers in the women’s bunk area. A photo of the Robert Stewart bridge is near the entrance in a hallway.

The building’s transformation to a housing shelter is the latest public/private partnership, this one between Love Chapel and the township, to provide emergency shelter for single adults in a more cost-effective and proactive approach, which includes case management for each individual who seeks shelter there.

A possibility into reality

It was just over a year ago that Columbus Township Trustee Ben Jackson and Love Chapel’s Kestler approached city zoning officials for approval to locate the shelter in the former maintenance facility, which they estimated would require about $300,000 in renovations and equipment.

The two smile now as they reflect on all the challenges that were faced in completing what had to be one of the biggest housing “flips” in the city in recent memory.

The $300,000 project was completed by spending about $100,000 in materials and some labor, with the remainder being donated by contractors, engineers, city workers, businesses, individuals and others, who stepped up to help in surprising ways.

Columbus Township is the landlord for the shelter, leasing it to Love Chapel for $1 a year. Love Chapel is operating the shelter by providing staff members and volunteers.

Kestler said in an earlier interview she believed the power of prayer led to the successful completion of the project, and also led them to Steve Ferdon and a group from Columbus’ Asbury United Methodist Church, known as Mission Columbus.

Ferdon, who works for Cummins as director of engineering technology for the company’s Fuel Systems business, was the organizational control behind finding, organizing and coordinating volunteers to complete work on the shelter — including donated work from some of Columbus’ most well-known contractors, their employees and their suppliers.

Ferdon said he is most proud of what a community is capable of achieving when it puts its spiritual faith into action.

“When we talked about this project back in December, we had a big pole barn, a collection of engineering drawings that were still being revised, an unsecured budget and maybe 12 people who said ‘Yes, of course’ when asked if they would help build this thing out,” he said.

The facility’s opening on Monday is “thanks to dozens of volunteer groups, organizations and contractors, hundreds of volunteer hours, thousands of dollars donated and discounted materials — all committed to love of God and our neighbors — whatever their plight or life situation might be,” Ferdon said.

Preparations for opening

Leading up to Monday’s opening, Love Chapel and the township invited staff members to sleep overnight in the shelter to get an idea of what clients will experience and to learn what needed to be tweaked.

While push brooms were available, the need for a kitchen-type broom was noted, along with back-lit wall clocks for guests to be able to see the time.

Since the bunk rooms are video monitored, signage is being added to remind clients that changing clothes needs to be done in the restroom area rather than in the bunk area, Kestler said. Staff members also had a “mock intake” session to allow staff and volunteers to practice procedures, and some modifications may be made for space and privacy, she said.

In addition to the staff event, Love Chapel and the township had a fundraiser which allowed community members to pay $100 to sleep overnight at the shelter. About seven people actually did it, but 30 tickets were sold, raising $3,000 last weekend for the shelter.

Brighter Days is using a set of lockers donated by Faurecia on the women’s side of the shelter, and now is purchasing under-bed lockers for the men’s side, which should arrive soon, Jackson said. In the meantime, crates are being used for under-bed storage areas.

Part of the preparation for the new shelter is transitioning individuals who are staying at Love Chapel’s Cherry Street shelter in Columbus to Brighter Days, which was scheduled to occur on Monday. The Cherry Street facility will then be renovated to be used for family emergency housing, Kestler said.

Brighter Days also hosted sessions for social service agencies in Columbus to tour the facility and learn about housing options, Kestler said.

Columbus police, Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies and representatives from the Centerstone mental health agency also attended an orientation session to learn about referrals to the shelter.

Getting started

Pam Hull, known for her work in the Iron Aprons Women’s Ministry in Columbus, is Brighter Days new housing manager, Kestler said.

Hull’s role will eventually expand to coordinate all housing ministries for Love Chapel, Kestler said.

Hull said she has a history in working with women in crisis that has allowed her to come to know the types of struggles and barriers people can face and the help they need.

Brighter Days will be working with individuals to help them be self sufficient, with a case manager assigned to each person to shepherd them through the process of finding housing and rebuilding their lives, Kestler said. That process has an accountability factor that is more developed than what has been available in the past and will include working with local social service agencies to move individuals out of homelessness.

As the shelter opens, Kestler reminded local residents that Brighter Days can only house individuals age 18 and older who are Bartholomew County residents. Families in need of emergency housing are asked to call Brighter Days at 812-344-4512 for screening and referrals.

Those who are listed on a sex-offender registry are not allowed to stay at Brighter Days because it is located near a public park.

Brighter Days is not serving meals, although it will provide a continental breakfast in the morning, and referrals to public meal sites including Love Chapel for clients to use.

A grand opening event, tentatively scheduled for October, will honor the volunteers who worked on the project and offer the general public tours of the facility, Jackson said.

“This has been a great project, but now it’s Elizabeth and Pam’s,” Jackson said, smiling as he walked along Brighter Days hallway leading the entryway.

“This shows that we need to talk and work together,” he said. “Everyone needs to work together.”

About Brighter Days Housing

Location: 421 S. Mapleton St., Columbus

Contact number: 812-344-4512

What it is: An emergency housing facility for individuals age 18 and older who are homeless in Bartholomew County.

Capacity: 36 individuals and three to four staff members housed in staff quarters and two bunk areas, separated by gender.

Check-in: 6 to 9 p.m. each night. Guests will be served a continental breakfast but will be referred to meal sites in Columbus. Those who stay at Brighter Days will leave the facility between 9 and 9:30 a.m. daily. The shelter has installed bike racks, and several bicycles have been donated by Healthy Communities and the Bike Co-op for guests to use.

Grand opening ceremonies: Planned for October with details to be announced soon. Recognition for those who contributed or volunteered to the project is planned at the event.

How to help

For information about how to donate or provide assistance to Brighter Days Housing, contact Love Chapel at 812-372-9421.

For general information, visit Love Chapel’s website at columbuslovechapel.com/

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.