In the fall of 1997, Ann Michalski, a member of the Dubuque City Council, recognized the need for emergency and transitional housing for women and children. She brought this need to the attention of six Catholic women’s religious communities (Sinsinawa Dominicans, Sisters of the Presentation, Sisters of Charity-BVM, Sisters of Visitation, Dubuque Franciscans and Sisters of Mercy-Farmington Hills) in the Dubuque area. The women’s religious organizations agreed this pressing need was a project worthy of their joint effort and committed seed money to the project.
After determining the need and developing the concept of what they wanted to do, the congregations decided to form a nonprofit charitable corporation. Opening Doors was incorporated on June 18, 1999, and tax-exempt status was obtained. Opening Doors became a collaborative effort between the religious organizations, the city and the private sector.
An unused convent that is part of St. Mary’s Parish in Dubuque was identified as an ideal facility for the new program. Renovation costs of almost $600,000 were secured through grants and private donations. The renovated facility began serving homeless and near-homeless women and children from the greater tri-state area in September of 2000.
Shortly after the inception of Maria House, staff quickly realized that it was difficult to serve both the emergency and transitional populations under the same roof at Maria House. The emergency population was seeking to have their basic needs of food and shelter met and were unable to follow the structure and rules of Maria House. In addition, Maria House almost always has a waiting list and receives many calls from women who need temporary shelter but are not always appropriate for a transitional housing program. In response to the increasing need for shelter for homeless women and children, Opening Doors addressed opening a second program.
Fortunately, the same group of women religious that committed the seed money to start Maria House approached Opening Doors because they wanted to again work collaboratively on a project that would benefit some of the neediest persons in the tri-state area. As they made contact with other persons and agencies in the Dubuque area, they realized how clearly our community needed an emergency shelter for women and children. The project became a reality when Teresa Shelter opened on May 23, 2006. The shelter provides emergency housing to about 28 women and children from the greater tri-state area. To date, Maria House and Teresa Shelter has served nearly 1,700 homeless women and children.