Lisa Fabian

Lisa Fabian is executive director of St. Joseph Missions, a shelter for single homeless women. The nonprofit won $1,600 from the February Fort Wayne SOUP pitch competition.

St. Joseph Missions will use proceeds from Fort Wayne Soup’s first micro-grant dinner of the year to help get a kitchen ready in what will become the city’s first shelter for single homeless women.

The nonprofit group, SOUP — using an acronym that stands for socializing, organizing, uniting people — collects $5 from everyone attending its quarterly micro-grant dinners and invites the diners to vote on their favorite of four or five funding pitches that they hear from startup businesses or nonprofits. Its most recent dinner took place Feb. 20 at the Summit in Fort Wayne.

Sponsors donate food for the event, and the money collected goes to the startup that receives the most votes when ballots are counted after the pitches are made. Presenters have 4 minutes to make a pitch and an additional 4 minutes to answer audience questions about their startups.

The idea for the shelter came about when volunteers calling themselves Catholics on a Mission noticed many of the same faces over and over while they were feeding the homeless downtown twice a month.

“They did the research and found out that this was the one population that didn’t have a place to go,” said Lisa Fabian, executive director for the nonprofit organization that the volunteers founded to solve the problem.

She told about 80 listening to her pitch for the shelter that the city’s winter contingency program provides men a warm place to sleep when outdoor temperatures feel like 40 degrees, and families will have a warm place to sleep when temperatures feel like 32 degrees.

“The mercury must fall to 20 degrees before single women will have a warm place to sleep, because beds are so scarce,” Fabian said.

“St. Joseph Missions has learned directly from one of our single homeless sisters that the going rate for purchasing a woman’s body and debasing it at will if she is desperate enough for a hot meal and a warm bed for just one night is $20,” she said.

“No woman should ever have to be dehumanized simply to survive.”

The most recent United Way of Allen County 211 Center data on the local homeless population showed 1,022 members of it over a year’s time identified themselves as single women, Fabian said.

Their average age fell in the 18 to 39 range, and the 60-plus age group had grown dramatically, she said. A majority of them were unemployed.

“It’s surprising that some of these women are employed part-time, even full-time, yet are themselves homeless for the first time — 1,022. We must do better,” Fabian said.

“It’s no one’s fault this homeless population has been overlooked, but the stark reality is that single, unaccompanied women, especially those who do not suffer from addiction or domestic violence, essentially have nowhere to go when a crisis arises,” she said. “As a community, it is time for us to step up.”

St. Joseph Missions plans to operate a 24/7 staffed, secure, 16-bed shelter for single homeless women where it will help with their job search process and plug them into existing job training programs. It also will nurture culinary and other life skills, and guests will have a chance to learn landscaping and gardening there.

“We even have a gentleman who wants to work with our guests to get them trained in the trades, so not only will they have a great income, they will help help address the (shortage) of skilled workers that we’re facing right now,” Fabian said.

Guests will be referred to the shelter, she said, through local social service organizations, hospitals and the Fort Wayne Police Department by professionals trained to deal with the low-income population.

“We hope to have them moving through our shelter on to different programs that will help them achieve self-sufficiency,” she said.

It will have a goal of finding guests a secure place to live and connecting them with social services to sustain them within 45 days of arrival.

St. Joseph Missions plans to use its winnings from the funding pitch competition to improve the shelter’s kitchen. The amount collected for the winner came to $800, with a match from Fort Wayne SOUP.

St. Joseph Missions will support the shelter’s operation with money from grants, fundraisers and individual and corporate donations, Fabian said.

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