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Life’s River shelter to address increase in homelessness in Franklin County

Shelter will serve families with minor children

A new shelter for families in the Franklin County community of Washington is being planned in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

After several years of planning and months of renovation work, Life’s River is expected to open in April. The shelter, a 7,200 square-foot building in an industrial area on Highway A just south of Highway 100, will provide short-term housing for families, while also connecting them with case management services. The shelter will be able to accommodate up to 25 adults and their minor children, with the ability to expand to up to 30 people on a short-term basis.

Founders Greg Hoberock and his wife, Anne McPherson, were at Mass at St. Gertrude Parish in Krakow several years ago when Hoberock sensed the Lord was calling him to something out of the ordinary: to help the homeless in his community.

“There was no bolt of lightning, no burning bush,” he recalled. “But when I walked out of Mass, I commented to my wife that the Lord spoke to me, and I believe we needed to do something.”

Through a partnership with Catholic Charities, Life’s River hired its first executive director, Matt Lybarger, in December, with additional staff to be hired, including a program manager/caseworker and a community engagement resident, who will live at the shelter. Catholic Charities also is offering its expertise and guidance to the staff at Life’s River as they get started.

“For them, its a great way for them to be part of something … as far as how do we serve those in the rural community who are seeing this increase with housing insecurity,” Lybarger said of the collaboration. (Catholic Charities also has a partnership with Bridge of Hope, a shelter in Lincoln County expected to open in March.)

The shelter will include rooms for sleeping, common living space and kitchen and laundry facilities. As part of the intake process, staff will identify barriers that affect a family’s ability to secure housing and create a plan for their future. They’re also working with community resources to help teach life skills, such as cooking and budgeting finances.

McPherson said she spent several years looking for the right property, while also working with the guidelines that the city of Washington set for establishing a shelter in the community. She finally found the building, located in an industrial area and most recently used by an HVAC company, thanks to a push from an encounter with a work friend.

The friend for several years had been helping a man who was homeless. One day, McPherson came to work and saw the man sitting outside. Her friend was getting ready to take him to a clinic to be treated for frostbite. When she returned to work, the friend lamented that the man had no shelter. The encounter pushed McPherson to search for properties once more — this time, the perfect building appeared in her online search.

Annie Foncannon, executive director of the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board, said Life’s River will be a welcome addition to the community, adding she’s seen an increase in homelessness in recent years. Without a brick-and-mortar shelter, a task force made up of several agencies currently works together to secure temporary shelter for individuals on a case-by-case basis.

While it’s difficult to pin down how many people in Washington and surrounding communities are homeless, Foncannon said the number of those who visit the Family Resource Center in Franklin County for a hot shower and laundry has quadrupled in the last year. Other community programs, including The Harvest Table, a weekly meal offered to anyone who is in need, also have seen an increase in attendance.

Foncannon, who has been working with the planning for Life’s River, said the shelter will help keep families together, rather than splitting them up. “Just this week, we had a family with very small children who were homeless,” she recalled. “There was a hotline (call) made on the situation … and the kids had to go to Crisis Nursery every night while the parents stayed in the car. That’s hard on the children to be separated from their parents.”

Hoberock and McPherson combine decades of experience in the business world — Hoberock with industrial and commercial development, maintenance and contracting; and McPherson with construction, commercial and residential management. So the idea of establishing a shelter seemed completely out of the ordinary for the two.

But Lybarger, a former financial analyst and pastor at The Crossing, said that Hoberock and McPherson are now involved in a different kind of construction — one that’s centered on rebuilding families’ lives.

In ministry, “you’re invited into some sacred and holy moments when people are at their lowest point,” Lybarger said. Part of that work is to “sit there and be there with them, and know that there is still hope — that it’s not the end of the story for them. There are chapters ahead.”

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