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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Connection Shelter welcomes homeless people in Minnesota

 

Ministry also connects dozens of congregations

June 21, 2024

Connections Shelter (provided)

The Connection Shelter at historic First Presbyterian Church in downtown Mankato, Minnesota, has welcomed homeless people to spend the night from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. in their second-floor adapted facility from October through April since the fall of 2020. Homeless guests must sign up in advance. Dinner is provided by volunteers from sponsoring churches and from the community at large. When the guests depart from First Presbyterian at 8 a.m., they walk a few blocks to Centenary United Methodist Church for breakfast served by Holy Grounds staff and volunteers and then proceed to the nearby Salvation Army for shelter during the day if needed.

This Connection Ministry program was established in October 2017 in a combined effort begun in 2016 by the Centenary United Methodist, Bethlehem Lutheran ELCA, St. John’s Episcopal and PACT ministries under the leadership of the Rev. Erica Koser from Centenary Methodist and the Rev. Collette Broady Grund from Bethlehem Lutheran.

The Connection Shelter first opened on Oct. 29, 2017, as a rotating seasonal overnight shelter housed alternating weeks at five Mankato churches: Bethlehem, Centenary, Grace Lutheran, St. John’s Episcopal and Crossview Covenant. Intake was at Centenary Methodist every evening, then guests were walked or transported to that week’s host site. The official capacity was 25.

By the fall of 2018, nine churches had agreed to host, with some paired. The rotation model involved moving beds and supplies weekly to the next site, so Covenant Family Church’s agreement to rent their space for a full season starting in the fall of 2019 was very welcome.

Connections Shelter (provided)

In March 2020, as the Covid pandemic hit, all guests were moved out of Covenant Family Church and into the Hilton Garden Inn, where services and case management were provided throughout that summer.

First Presbyterian Church offered to rent second-floor space for the shelter in the fall of 2020. Adequate restrooms and a theater room allowing for television or movie viewing were already in place for the guests. Grant funding allowed the needed addition of a kitchen and expansion of capacity to 30 beds (with Covid spacing). Since then, the services have expanded. Two rooms are now dedicated to dining, and eight rooms house 40 beds. Expansion to 40 beds was afforded when a Blue Earth County government funding grant paid for office space in an off-site building and funded an outreach specialist.

The current director as of May 2024 is Jennifer Echevarria, whose advanced schooling and past experience with homeless people in San Antonio before moving to Mankato made her the ideal candidate. The Rev. Erica Koser had guided the program as a full-time Connections Ministry director from 2020 until her resignation due to family medical issues in 2024 and had played a leadership role since its inception.

The Connection Ministry now has over 30 supporting congregations, 25 business partners, and more than 500 supporters donating time and money. Three full-time year-round employees and 8–10 seasonal employees staff the shelter. In the 2022–23 shelter season, 117 guests were served. Since the outreach office opened in September 2022, more than 200 unique family units have been served.

Sally Coomes, First Presbyterian Church Member; Rev. Erica Koser, Connections Ministry Director 2020–24

Today’s Focus: Connection Shelter at historic First Presbyterian Church in downtown Mankato, Minnesota

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Maha Kolko, Project Manager, Community Outreach and Volunteerism, Human Resources, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 
Karla Ann Koll, Mission co-worker serving in Costa Rica, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency 

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love, which is a wellspring of life for us all. You are a shelter and a strong tower for those who need refuge. We thank you for your enduring grace that covers those who cannot take care of themselves.