Just in time for the deep freeze in Central Indiana, Wheeler Mission is opening a new shelter adjacent to its existing facility.
A 12,000-square-foot addition at 520 E. Market St. adjoins the existing men's emergency shelter. Three years in the making, it opens at 1 p.m. Tuesday, a bit earlier than planned.
"Our homeless citizens are impacted by harsh weather more than anyone else in the community," said Rick Alvis, Wheeler Mission president and CEO. "Getting them out of the cold can literally mean life or death."
Single-digit temperatures greeted Indianapolis residents Monday morning, and forecasters called for below-0 temperatures later in the week.
The existing shelter has 124 permanent beds, forcing hundreds of men to sleep on floor mats throughout the year. With the new facility, Wheeler will relocate and modernize shower, restroom and laundry facilities from the existing shelter, allowing them to renovate the older building in the spring and expand sleeping areas to accommodate 200 permanent beds, according to Steve Kerr, chief development officer for Wheeler.
"Right now, the day room and the overflow day room are shoulder to shoulder with men," said Kerr, who was at the existing facility on Monday evening. "Last night, we had 313 men here, and 69 of them were sleeping on the floor."
Wheeler launched a $6.5 million capital campaign three years ago, and has raised $6.9 million, Kerr said. Of that, $4.8 million paid for the new shelter; the rest will pay for improvements to the older facility and the organization's other ministries.
"We are so grateful for all the donors who made this possible," Kerr said. "In this brutal, bitter cold, this absolutely will save lives."
The new facility also includes an elevator with direct access to the dorm so that men with disabilities won't have to sleep on the floor any longer.
"I can't tell you how many men I've seen sleeping in wheelchairs (because there was no elevator to get them upstairs), and that just breaks your heart," he said. "Now, they will be able to get into an elevator, into clean pajamas and into a bed."
A formal dedication is planned Jan. 21.
Call Star reporter Maureen Gilmer at (317) 444-6879. Follow her on Twitter: @MaureenCGilmer.