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March 07th, 2021

stepping stone frontThe former Conestoga building at 300 N. Lincoln will soon be the new home of Stepping Stone Shelter. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

Stepping Stone Shelter (SSS) has been located on North Washington in Liberal for many years. That location soon will change.

In 2020, Seward County received $6.4 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and among the recipients of that funding was Stepping Stone.

It was around the time the shelter received that money, SSS Director Bambi Fulton said, that officials with the facility began the process of looking for a new building.

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“We went to meetings, and they talked to the non-profits about funding for some of their COVID-related issues,” she said regarding county officials. “For us, that happened to be a new shelter, and we were awarded the funding to be able to purchase our new building.”

Stepping Stone got $265,000 in CRF money, which was enough, Fulton said, to purchase the former Conestoga Building at 300 North Lincoln. That money, however, did not pay for construction.

“We’re hoping to get that in grants,” she said. “We’re currently in the process of waiting for the answer to that grant. It’s already been applied for. We can’t move residents over here until we get a sprinkler system put in. Once we have that, we’ll be able to get them in over here.”

For the most part, Fulton said the building is move in ready.

“We have minimal renovations,” she said. “The biggest things are our bathrooms and the kitchen and the sprinkler system. The bedrooms upstairs literally are ready to move into.”

When residents are moved in, Fulton said they will have new sleeping surfaces from those in the Stepping Stone building at 1015 N. Washington.

“We’re hoping to get new beds,” she said. “Those beds are old and outdated, so that’s on our list of things to be able to do – to get new beds for the residents to sleep in, updated and have them moved in and get them ready to be occupied.”

With two floors in the Lincoln building, Fulton said the new Stepping Stone home is separated out quite well from the shelter’s soon to be former home.

“Our offices, soup kitchen and employment center are on one side of the building, and on the other side of the building, it’ll house our thrift store – The New You,” she said. “Upstairs is where the residents will reside.”

Originally, the county’s deadline to have the CRF money spent was Dec. 30, 2020, and because of that deadline, Stepping Stone leaders needed to have the Lincoln building occupied by then, which Fulton said they have.

“I currently work out of this new shelter location, and Shelly, my case manager, she works out of this location,” she said. “The thrift store is working on being opened right now with a target date of Feb. 2.”

Fulton said a midsummer target date for the new shelter to open is the goal, but until SSS officials hear about grant applications, an opening date is not known.

“Right now, we’re literally just waiting on the sprinkler system,” she said. “The rest is workable. We have bathrooms that are functioning. We have a kitchen we could cook from. Once we got the residents in here, the other stuff could come little by little if need be. We’re actually hoping to get the full grant amount that will be for the construction needs and the sprinkler system.”

As far as the Washington building, Fulton said discussions have taken place concerning the future of that building.

“We haven’t made a solid decision on that at all, but I think the majority of things is looking towards selling the old building,” she said.

Naturally, Fulton is quite excited about having a new home for Stepping Stone.

“If you could put me through the roof, that would be great,” she said jokingly. “I’m very excited about this venture. The shelter has been located in the same place for a very long time, and that building is very old. It was built in the 1920s. It’s been renovated more than once, and it’s just been used. This building, it allows for more opportunities for our residents. We’ll be implementing new programs.”

Another advantage of the Lincoln building, Fulton said, is it allows for offices to be separated. The director pointed to the office she and case manager Shelly Murphy have been sharing for the last two years as an example of needed space there.

“While we had a great time doing that, I think we’re ready for our own offices,” Fulton said. 

Stepping Stone’s employment center will likewise have a specific room out of view of the public, and secretaries and staff will have places of their own without having to share desks.

The biggest thing for Fulton, though, is men will no longer be sharing a single dorm with 15 beds.

“That’s a huge accomplishment for us,” she said. “If you put males all in one room, it can get a little tense. In this building, we’re only increasing the people who can come stay at the shelter by 10 or so, but what makes the bigger difference is we have 10 available rooms to put less people in with more space.”

Stepping Stone also received grant money related to COVID-19, and those funds have allowed for rooms designated for quarantine in the new building.

“People will be separated and not in bigger quantities,” Fulton said. “Right now, the men share that room, and the beds are probably about two feet apart at most. Now, the beds will actually be set three to six feet apart, and there’ll be fewer people in one room. That’s huge for us. Overall, this is going to be better for the risks the homeless population faces because they’re homeless.”

Stepping Stone’s thrift store had been located in Plains, about 25 miles from Liberal. It also had been closed for more than a year, and Fulton said having a new location for the shelter likewise makes for space to get the thrift store running again.

“Everything will be more centralized, yet we’re moving into a more business professional aspect of the shelter,” she said. “We’ve been working on changing the face and the dynamics of the shelter for years now. That’s very important to us, and now, we’ve made that accomplishment. We’ve been so blessed to be able to do so.”

Fulton said the new building will also allow Stepping Stone to overcome one of its biggest challenges.

“When we did intakes, they were done right there out in the open, and some of that information is confidential,” she said. “Now, they’ll have a room where they can do intakes. That confidential information is allowed to be confidential. Another thing is we’re a soup kitchen as well, so we take walk-ins. One big thing about the shelter is we want everything to be confidential. It’s hard to do that when you’re mixing your residents with your public in the same area, and now, we won’t have to do that. It’s going to be a big change for the shelter, a change I think me, my board and every one of my employees is looking forward to, as well as the residents.”

Fulton said a goal for Stepping Stone leaders is to have no one able to identify the shelter’s homeless population from the general public.

“That’s a good way to get away from stigma or pre-conceived judgments,” she said. “It allows us to work with them privately.”

Fulton praised the work of all involved in making the shelter possible.

“We’re so grateful and thankful to the people involved volunteering, sending financial donations, helping us move, all those who are involved being in support of the shelter,” she said. “The commissioners are in great support of what we are doing and awarded us the money to get the new building.”

Fulton said some of the possible grant money Stepping Stone could be getting may be used to upgrade other areas of the shelter.

“The shelter’s systems have been running very old for quite some time, so we were able to upgrade all of our computers,” she said. “We were able to get a good supply of PPE. Right now, we’re in the process of maybe working on a new phone system and security system. We’ve been able to do some good stuff with the CARES Act money. We got two different grants. We got one for the building and one for those kind of things.”

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