KEARNEY — “There is no other place like this in Kearney.”
That’s how Daniel Buller, the executive director at Crossroads Mission Avenue, describes The Lodge, the new transitional housing unit that Crossroads opened this month at 1404 E. 39th St.
Located next door to Crossroads’ primary facility, The Lodge has 15 units of affordable, furnished long-term housing.
It’s the first, and only, housing at Crossroads available to people who have — and have not — been part of the non-profit’s four-step recovery process. Crossroads is a Christian non-profit that provides housing, job training and support to enable homeless people to become self-sufficient.
Buller couldn’t stop smiling as he took a visitor through The Lodge this week. Before Crossroads purchased the building in 2018, it was the Just for Ladies fitness center. “This used to be the swimming pool,” he said.
Now, with a hallway lined with apartment doors, the building no longer feels like a fitness facility. It feels like home.
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Thirteen units in The Lodge are efficiency-style, one-room apartments with kitchens, a bathroom and a washer and dryer. They can house one or two people. The Lodge also has two larger one-room units with the same amenities that can accommodate families of up to six people.
All units are furnished with sofas, bunk beds, tables and chairs. Bunk beds have built-in dresser drawers. Residents must provide their own dishes, silverware and other items. Wi-Fi is provided, but TV sets are not. Pets are not allowed.
Furnishings were donated by Slumberland Furniture in Grand Island. Russell’s Appliances and Electronics at 204 E. 25th St. in Kearney provided the refrigerators, ranges and the one-piece washer dryer combinations in every apartment.
The Lodge sits in the rear of the former Just for Ladies structure and behind, or north of, an area that opened in April 21 with five dormitory-style rooms and a kitchen, bathroom and social area for women transitioning out of Crossroads.
The Lodge is different because it is larger, has individual apartments with kitchens and bathrooms, and can serve men, women and families. Chief Construction led the $3 million renovation.
“This is more than just a cheap place to live,” Buller said. It’s a lifeline for people who are unable to find affordable housing, and for those who have completed the Crossroads program but aren’t quite ready to live on their own.
Rent of $475 a month includes utilities, but residents are required to put one-twelfth of their annual salary into a savings account each month. “We want them to save while they are here. We want them to establish at least an emergency savings account,” Buller said.
People must apply for an apartment. Prospective tenants go through a vetting process with a Crossroads case manager. Their incomes must fall below 60% of the area median income level. They pay a deposit equal to one-month’s rent.
Once approved, they must abide by a curfew and continue to meet with a case manager. All visitors must be approved by CMA.
Incoming tenants also are required to take a life-skills course, where they learn how to keep up an apartment and other essentials of living independently.
All leases are month-to-month, but there is no limit as to how long a tenant can stay. Finding a permanent, affordable apartment or home can take up to a year, Buller said, especially in Kearney, where housing is tight and often expensive.
The Lodge is the newest part of Crossroads Mission Avenue, which has been serving the homeless in south central Nebraska for 38 years. It has locations in Kearney, Grand Island and Hastings. Buller is executive director of all three sites.
In the past year, demand for Crossroads services has soared 46%. “It’s the economy, inflation and fall-out from COVID,” Buller said. “Beyond that, people are dealing with drug issues. Many have mental health issues.”
The Lodge also will help meet Kearney’s need for affordable housing. Crossroads is consistently full, and people ready to leave often have a difficult time finding affordable housing, Buller said. “The cost of housing has increased exponentially.”
He also said some people with a history of homelessness never learned how to properly care for a house. The Lodge will help provide those skills.
Since opening with 27 beds on Feb. 1, 2012, Crossroads expanded to 42 beds in January 2013. It has eight full-time and three part-time employees.
Residents (“guests”) get shelter, hot meals and enrollment in a four-part training program that focuses on personal resilience, employment, finance and leadership. They apply for jobs in the area and learn to become financially independent. There is no limit on how long they can stay.
If Crossroads gets overcrowded, Kearney City Council permits up to 56 beds to be full for up to 72 hours. Men can then be transferred to Grand Island’s 40-bed, male-only facility. Men, women and children can be moved to the Crossroads facility in Hastings, which has 112 beds and ample space, Buller said.
While some people who have completed the program find their own apartments, The Lodge is an alternative for people who still want a bit of support, or who cannot find an affordable place to live.
The Lodge units will also free up beds in Kearney by allowing Crossroads residents who have completed the program to move into transitional housing next door, yet still have access to Crossroads support.
“Homelessness recovery is a long, complicated process for many of our guests, and step by step, Crossroads is there to help them,” Buller said.