MARQUETTE - The Janzen House is celebrating its 25th anniversary of providing shelter for low-income Marquette residents this week.
An open house is scheduled for Wednesday at the Janzen House, when the public is welcome to tour the facility and ask questions of staff and board members. It is from 3 to 6 p.m., at 146 W. Spring St. in Marquette.
The house, formerly a railroad hotel, was built in 1893 and is listed on the state historic places registry. It became a low-income shelter in 1983, after a group of community members formed a committee to save it from demolition.
The Janzen House is located at 146 W. Spring St. in Marquette. The venerable facility recently passed a quarter century of service. (Journal photo by Julia Woehrer)
Bob Kulisheck, a Janzen House board member, said in the mid-1980s the hotel was run as a for-profit hotel whose customers were mostly low-income and elderly. In 1983, a fire damaged the building, and it was thought it would have to be torn down. Instead, a group of volunteers created the "Save the Janzen" committee and began fund-raising to renovate the old hotel. They raised $30,000 in six months, and got matching funds from the city of Marquette, he said.
Then, the committee put the word out for volunteers to help with renovations, Kulisheck said. Volunteers from the carpenters, plumbers and pipefitters, and electricians' local unions put in hundreds of hours of work on the building. The committee purchased the building in January of 1984, and incorporated itself as a non-profit with a board of directors to run the hotel as a shelter for men who otherwise would be homeless.
"And since 1984, we have been running the Janzen House as a non-profit home for potentially homeless people. We currently house 32 people," Kulisheck said.
The board which oversees the shelter is made up of representatives of local social agencies, such as Pathways, the Marquette City Police Department, Northern Michigan University, and unemployment organizations. It is supported partly through residents' rent, which is $180 per month if the person is able to pay. The Janzen also receives financial support from United Way of Marquette County, and local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. Food comes from federal food pantry funding, and from Super One Foods in Marquette.
Board vice president and treasurer Ron Perkins said other social agencies, such as the Salvation Army, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Lutheran Social Services, also work with the Janzen House, as do local clergy.
"They were pretty much instrumental in our 'Save the Janzen' committee from day one. The churches have been very involved," Perkins said.
Residents often arrive at the Janzen and are given one of five shelter beds in a communal room, then move into a single-occupant room later, house manager Dan Lancour said.
Eventually, the goal is to find residents employment and permanent housing, he said.
To that end, the house maintains a small fund to help residents pay security deposits on new apartments, Perkins said.
"We do encourage people to find employment and seek other living arrangements," he said.
That's especially true considering the waiting list at the Janzen. Kulisheck, Perkins and Lancour all agreed the need for temporary housing is great, and the beds are usually all filled.
"Especially in 2008, the demand has been overwhelming," Perkins said. Lancour said that had been the case for a few years as the economy worsened.
The Janzen has been seeing increased costs in the last few years, and board members said the need for community support continues, although the shelter may have faded into the background of public awareness.
"I think one of the reason people forget about it is because it works so well," Kulisheck said. "It's really been a tradition of community involvement all along."