POCATELLO — Bathrooms, hallways and bedrooms have taken shape in recent weeks within the wing of the future Aid for Friends homeless shelter that will be reserved for families and single women.
Just a month ago, the nonprofit’s executive director, BJ Stensland, explained there was only an open framework of studs there.
While leading supporters on a Tuesday morning tour of the planned shelter, located at 209 E. Lewis St., Stensland said she’s been astonished by the rapid progress of construction, due in large part to several recent large donations.
Stensland said the renovation of the 8,500-square-foot space will double the community’s space for housing homeless people and is on schedule for completion in December or January.
“This is going to be a long-term solution,” Stensland said.
It’s uncertain when residents will move into the facility, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The previous shelter, located in an older, three-story house at 653 S. Fourth Ave., is being used for community service and intake during the day, but Aid for Friends is now housing homeless people in local motel rooms to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission during the pandemic.
Stensland said her organization obtained a grant to fund the rooms and has reached an arrangement for discounted rates from two area motels. She said that agreement will continue for as long as the coronavirus threat persists, before residents will admitted to the new shelter.
The most recent large gift toward the project was a $50,000 contribution from Latter-day Saint Charities, which is the humanitarian arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The local leaders felt like it would be a good thing to support so they submitted a request to the church and the church approved it,” said Larry Fisher, local communication director for the church. “We have a homeless problem here in our area and Aid for Friends does a good job of helping take care of them and getting them back on their feet.”
Stensland said Aid for Friends has $200,000 left to fundraise to fully cover the $2.3 million project cost. The building was originally constructed in 1956 as Pocatello’s city hall: The shelter’s dining area is being built in the space where the City Council once convened.
Aid for Friends bought the building in April 2019 for $450,000. Workers started construction in June, spending two months in demolition to remove asbestos and to take the building down to a shell.
Idaho Housing and Finance Association, which is a nonprofit organization created to address Idaho’s affordable housing needs, contributed $1 million toward the new shelter.
Brady Ellis, the association’s vice president of housing support programs, said his organization hoped the donation would encourage others in the community to match the funding.
“We’ve been successful in doing that and have pretty much got 100% return on that money here locally,” Ellis said.
Housing Alliance & Community Partnerships, ON Semiconductor, Citizens Community Bank, Wells Fargo, Idaho Central Credit Union and Bannock County also made substantial contributions. Stensland said the City of Pocatello secured federal Community Development Block Grants and several private donors have also contributed.
Stensland said the new shelter will have up to 90 beds. The men’s area will have 38 bunk beds, the area for single women will have 24 beds and there will be eight family rooms. She said the family area will also have four bathrooms, compared with a single bathroom in the previous shelter.
The future shelter includes a spacious kitchen with a serving window where residents will pick up their meals and a career center with computers to aid in their job searches. There will also be a laundromat with several commercial-grade machines. A playground is planned in the back lot.
Jerry Myers, whose architecture firm designed the project, said the building has a residential feel, but its construction is commercial quality. He said the facility will enable Aid for Friends to better separate families, men and women from each other to maintain privacy and should be significantly more energy efficient and easier to maintain.
The building also includes 6,000 square feet of space that Aid for Friends is leasing to Joshua D. Smith & Associates, providing a supplemental income stream.
Bengal Solutions, a business consulting group affiliated with Idaho State University, has agreed to help Aid for Friends find affordable supplies to complete the remainder of the project. Construction Services Inc., based in Pocatello, is the organization’s general contractor.
Bannock County owned the previous shelter and has handed the title over to Idaho Housing and Finance Association, which plans to sell the property and use the assets.