Overcrowded Wheeler Mission plans expansion

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Wheeler Mission is planning an expansion to their downtown facilities to make more room for homeless men to find food and beds.

Wheeler Mission will publically announce and break ground on the new building at 11:30am Wednesday.

The $4 million phase of the expansion follows two years of fundraising and includes a $1.5 million grant from Eli Lilly.

The announcement comes in the midst of what Wheeler Mission officials are calling the busiest winter they’ve ever seen.

“This has been the most difficult winter in our history,” said Wheeler Mission Director Steve Kerr. “We’ve slept more men than even during the great depression.”

The Wheeler Mission’s emergency shelter has been over capacity during the harsh winter conditions. The building has 124 beds, which are full every night. Directors have also provided 76 floor mats for men to sleep on. Add the 100 men sleeping at the Wheeler Mission’s location on Delaware Street, and it adds up to 300 homeless men getting out of the cold on a nightly basis.

Jack Branan is one of those men.

“It’s better than trying to stay on the streets,” Branan said. “The way this January has been, it’s not good.”

As part of the expansion, a new 12,000 square foot building will be constructed next door to the emergency shelter on East Market Street. Laundry and shower facilities will be moved from the current shelter to the new building. There will also be a larger day room in the new building. Moving those facilities to the new building will make room to replace the 76 floor mats with permanent beds. At that point, 200 men will have bunks to sleep in.

Kerr said a variety of people and businesses have contributed to the cause.

He thanked the men who are staying in cramped quarters right now.

“This winter they’ve been so patient with us in this over crowding situation, they’ve been so patient,” Kerr said. “So we can’t wait to provide a much larger facility for these guys.”

Construction will move along through the Spring, Summer and Fall. Then, they’ll have to take a break during next winter to continue offering shelter at the current facility. Once Spring of 2015 arrives, construction and transition will continue.

“We anticipate by Fall of 2015 to be completely done,” Kerr said.

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