THE STORY OF OPENING DOORS
The story of Opening Doors began in 1997. Deacon Tim LoBianco was with St. Patrick’s Church at the time and he heard a knock on his rectory door. A homeless woman was found in Jackson Park with her dog. The dog could take refuge at the humane society, but there was no place for the woman to go.
In the fall of 1997, Ann Michalski, a member of the Dubuque City Council, took action. She 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.
UNLOCKING THE FIRST DOORWAY
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, the Maria House, 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 32 women and children from the greater tri-state area. To date, Maria House and Teresa Shelter has served over 3,000 homeless women and children. Teresa Shelter is the only emergency shelter in the tri-states that accepts women WITH children.
Through a collaboration with Steeple Square, Opening Doors launched a third doorway of hope at the Francis Apartments in August of 2017. The former St. Mary’s school, located at 1501 Jackson Street, was converted into 12 two- and three-bedroom apartments. Eight of the apartments are reserved for the graduates of Maria House and Teresa Shelter through our Permanent Supportive Housing program. This program completes our continuum of housing services for homeless women and their children in our community.
The federal government defines affordable housing as not spending more than 30% of your income on housing. The majority of the families who move out of our shelters end up paying double that amount or more on housing, which is why we are seeing more repeat admissions. Research has shown that coupling affordable housing with supportive services is highly effective at preventing homelessness. Not only will Opening Doors provide supportive services to the families selected to move into the Francis Apartments, they will also subsidize the rent of the families until they secure a living wage job.