The Catholic Commentator  

Freshly painted walls and the enticing aroma of new construction sketched a cheery portrait of the expansion of the Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter.  

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Acaldo shows off one of the new bedrooms, which will be able to accommodate a family including, for the first time, a father being able to stay with his wife and children. Each of the rooms will have single bunk beds, and cribs are available when needed.  Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

But the $1.5 million expansion is much more than bricks and mortar. Rather, each of the nine rooms and each of the 42 new beds represent hope for a struggling family, a place secure from life on the street, a pillow to lay their head and allow themselves to dream of a future when the current darkness has been snuffed by the light of a new life.  

“I think it’s going to mean a lot to the community,” St. Vincent de Paul Society executive director Michael Acaldo said, adding that a dedication of the expansion is planned for either late February or early March. “If you are a mom, and that’s what we anticipate based on what we see and the calls we get, and you have a male child over the age of five, this is the only place in Baton Rouge you can go.” 

“What it will mean for the ladies we are blessed to serve is we will provide additional options.”  

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Full bathrooms are in each of the nine new bedrooms, creating a hotel-like atmosphere for the residents.  

 

Acaldo pointed out that the homeless shelter for women at St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge, staffed by the Missionaries of Charity, accepts male children only age five and under, although women can bring in daughters above that age.  

The Ott expansion will also provide shelter for single men with children who may have fallen on hard times. Additionally families, for the first time, will have a safe haven and not have to be separated when homeless.  

Each of the rooms are private, designed similar to a hotel setting, although all of the beds are single bunk beds. A full bathroom complete with shower is also contained in each of the new rooms, rather than a communal bathroom as is present in the current shelters for men and women.  

“You must have children to come here as a family, that is the key concept,” Acaldo said. “Our target is mothers with children, and that will be 95 percent of who will be served. Our next largest group will be on occasion a dad with children, although that is not something where the phone is ringing off the hook.”  

The facility has been nearly six years in the making, with fundraising efforts launching soon after the men’s dormitory moved to its new facility above the main dining room in 2012. That building was aided with a $500,000 grant from the city of Baton Rouge.  

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In some bathrooms, a handicap-accessible shower is provided. 

 

Little did Acaldo realize at that time one of the largest donors for the expansion would be St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, which pledged $100,000.  

“That is awesome, isn’t it? A six-figure commitment,” Acaldo mused. “Their St. Vincent de Paul group is very vibrant and (pastor) Father Randy (Cuevas) is very supportive.”  

The Hugh and Angelina Wilson Foundation was the largest donor with a grant of $200,000. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation committed $180,000, with the rest of the donations coming through private gifts of all sizes and denominations.  

However, the project was not without complications. The new shelter is a roux of new construction and renovation of an existing building that was originally completed in 1997. As Acaldo painfully learned, building and electrical codes are much different 30 years later, so the current building had to be brought up to code, especially electrical, which tacked on added costs.  

The end result is a glistening new shelter, awaiting the exuberance of youthful voices and the sighs of relief from worried parents whose prayers have been answered and hope is in their future.  

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The 42-bed expansion is expected to be dedicated in the next several weeks.

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Each room will have coded entrances, eliminating the need for keys and providing increased security. DSC_4640.tif

St. Vincent de Paul Society executive director Michael Acaldo smiles as he pauses during a tour of the Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter for Women and Children.