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Residents will return to damaged YWCA shelter ahead of schedule

Erin Prochnow points out the of the location of extensive water damage that occured in a storage room at the YWCA Cass Clay Emergency Shelter in south Fargo.David Samson / The Forum1 / 5
The YWCA Cass Clay Emergency Shelter is located at 3000 S. University Drive in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum2 / 5
A food pantry is seen at the YWCA Cass Clay Emergency Shelter in south Fargo.David Samson / The Forum3 / 5
Acrovyn panels are trimmed for placement during the remodel from water damage at the YWCA Cass Clay Emergency Shelter in south Fargo.David Samson / The Forum4 / 5
A typical room at the YWCA Cass Clay Emergency Shelter in south Fargo.David Samson / The Forum5 / 5

FARGO — After six weeks of being displaced, 57 women and children are set to move back into the YWCA Emergency Shelter on Friday, Feb. 3, about two weeks ahead of schedule.

"We're still definitely a work in progress, but we're pretty excited," said YWCA Executive Director Erin Prochnow of the facility renovation following severe water damage late last year.

It all started the morning of Dec. 20, when a resident reported seeing water in an elevator. After discovering a burst pipe in the attic, the staff quickly shut off the water, but not before it had caused an estimated $250,000 in damage.

"We work in crisis and chaos situations everyday, but this was on a whole new level," Prochnow said. "It was devastating."

The YWCA secured alternative housing at a local hotel for the women and children, most who were escaping domestic violence. For safety reasons, they kept the name of the hotel private, but Prochnow said National Hospitality Services gave them the space for half the normal cost.

In addition to finding rooms for the shelter residents, the YWCA was working to deliver normal services to clients staying in the hotel and to get back to the shelter as soon as possible.

It took about two weeks of running fans to dry out the rooms, offices and storage spaces, some of which were knee-deep in water.

Prochnow said they lost a lot of the food they use to build food baskets given to families in need and also had to throw out all of the donated household items they give to shelter clients moving into transitional housing.

"We've had to replace all of this," said Prochnow, pointing to a fairly sparse storage closet. "This is where we held things people need to set up their lives: sheets, pots and pans."

But Associate Executive Director Julie Haugen said help came quickly.

"The phones started ringing right after people found out what had happened," Haugen said "People wanted to know what they could do."

Haugen and Prochnow estimate the community gave about $50,000 in donations to enhance improvements to the building. That doesn't include the value of thousands of items donated by the community. One man even donated $4,000 in diapers after running a Facebook challenge.

Volunteers are also stepping up to help paint rooms and stock shelves.The money has allowed the YWCA to install special flooring and wall coverings which can stand up to the thousands of residents who will call the shelter home over the coming years.

Prochnow said they are positioned better than ever to serve women and children, largely because of the community's generosity.

"One thing we've learned through this water crisis is that this is a facility, but the shelter is far more than a building," Prochnow said. "The community has given us an outpouring of support. They've really rallied and are fiercely united in stopping the cycle of violence."

Haugen said YWCA officials didn't need to turn anyone away during their six weeks out of the shelter and instead called other facilities when needed. They had some staff stay back at the shelter to answer phones and welcome women and children facing imminent danger into the hotel space.

Nonetheless, Prochnow said it will be nice to get back home. "It has been challenging trying to operate out of two locations, but it's really unified our team to make sure safety and security is there for everyone," she said.

Haugen expects they'll be at or over capacity again by Monday, just three days after moving back in. Help is always appreciated, but this time less in terms of items and more in terms of cash.

"Now that the shelter is sound again, the best thing anyone can do to help is making contributions to support our work," Haugen said.

The nonprofit was initially told they'd be able to move back into the building by Valentine's Day, but thanks to ServiceMaster and Roers Construction, they were able to move in ahead of schedule. She said they've gone from a feeling of devastation to gratitude.

"It's just going to be really rewarding on Friday to see everybody back in here getting their needs met," Prochnow said.

Tracy Briggs

‘The Great Indoors’ with Tracy Briggs appears every Thursday in The Forum. For more information go to her blog at thegreatindoors.areavoices.com.

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