Brian Arola

Published: February 17, 2017
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Mankato — February 22, 2017 — The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota’s Housing Advocacy Committee recently hosted the 31st Annual Search for Shelter Design Charrette at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Nearly 60 volunteer architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and students spent the weekend of February 17-19 creating pro bono design solutions for up to 10 projects submitted by Minnesota non-profit organizations that focus on issues of affordable shouing and/or homelessness.

One of the seven non-profit organizations selected was Partners for Affordable Housing, which owns and operates Mankato’s two homeless shelters: Theresa House & Welcome Inn. “We applied for the shelter design process out of a desire to springboard our efforts of developing a new, larger shelter.  Through the collaboration and brainstorming with sister agencies in the Mankato area, we wanted to take those ideas and begin developing a greater vision for a larger family-based shelter to help serve the numerous adults and children we see who find themselves in a homeless situation.  Far too many families are sleeping in cars, inhabitable locations or couch-hopping in our town.  It is our goal to continue to refine these shelter design ideas and ultimately open a larger shelter for women and families in the Greater Mankato area.”

“It’s a weekend of collaboration between agencies in need of design assistance and designers of all disciplines and levels. It’s truly impressive what we can accomplish together and turn over to organizations as tools to move their projects forward,” said AIA MN Housing Advocacy Committee Co-Chair Claire Lonsbury.

Design volunteers worked in teams to create viable, graphic solutions and plans to serve as visual tools for Minnesota agencies to use to: 1) obtain further project funding, 2) promote their organization, and 3) serve as preliminary development/building plans.

Partners for Affordable Housing is planning for that third option. Due to an increase in the number of families in need, Partners has been actively searching for a larger building or property to build a shelter that would allow more families to be served.

In 2016, Partners served a total of 179 individuals, 79 of whom were children under the age of 18. The average age of a child at shelter last year was 7 years old. “The small space limits the number of families we can serve,” said Onnie Brodkorb, Shelter Manager, “We also face challenges of being in older buildings that were not originally designed to be a shelter.”

Some of those challenges include issues with heating and cooling the two buildings, only having 3 small bathrooms for 30+ people to share, or needing to split larger families into two separate rooms. In addition, there are many families and individuals that Partners for Affordable Housing is unable to serve due to lack of space. In 2016, 999 individuals reached out seeking emergency shelter but were unable to be served.

One thing Brodkorb wants people to realize is that homelessness is often a temporary situation that families and individuals are facing. “We are designed for that one moment of support, to help those individuals from falling further behind.”

As Partners for Affordable Housing hosts the Fifth Annual Pedal Past Poverty this Saturday, February 25, at the Mankato YMCA, the project boards will be on display. The public is encouraged to attend the event where they can view the project designs and talk to staff about the future of Partners for Affordable Housing.

“We hope the community recognizes this as a step forward to creating a much-needed larger space to serve families and individuals who are in need within the Mankato community,” Brodkorb said.  “These drawings help energize our efforts around bringing this goal to life.  We hope the community will join us in that excitement,” said Newman.