The St. Vincent de Paul Society broke ground Wednesday on an expansion to a downtown-area shelter that will provide more beds to those in need during hurricanes, floods, overnight freezes and other foul conditions.

The groundbreaking comes more than two years after the society broke ground on another expansion to its Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter, doubling the capacity at its Convention Street campus. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for that addition was held in conjunction with Wednesday's groundbreaking. 

The newest expansion, set for completion by January, is intended to increase St. Vincent de Paul's capacity to provide life skills educational programs to women and children at its day shelter. When there are emergencies or natural disasters, the new wing can be converted to a 36-bed night shelter for homeless families.

Those 36 beds will increase the organization's total bed capacity to 206 for homeless families during emergencies, according to St. Vincent de Paul President and CEO Michael Acaldo.

"In the past, during hard freezes, our family shelter is always full," Acaldo said. "So this expansion will play a crucial role in us being able to keep up with the needs of the community."

Construction of the new facility is primarily funded through a $1 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development disaster recovery grant St. Vincent de Paul was awarded by East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome following a competitive application process. 

In a prepared statement, Broome called St. Vincent de Paul a "staple of the community" that provides critical support services to the city's most vulnerable population.

"We re-prioritized $1 million of our flood-related disaster dollars to help expand the shelter capacity at St. Vincent de Paul because we recognize that during times of inclement weather and natural disasters, the number of people in our community seeking shelter services increases,” Broome said.

But Acaldo said the organization will still need to raise an additional $150,000 to cover all construction-related costs since bids came in a little higher than expected.

The society raised the more than $1 million it took to build the 2017 addition to the shelter thorough individual private donations and help from the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and St. Aloysius Catholic Church. 

The new addition helped St. Vincent de Paul serve 1,355 adults and 295 children at the facility last year.

The latest national snapshot the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released in December claimed that 3,059 people in Louisiana were homeless during a single-night count in 2018 — a 7% decline from the previous year.

"Overall, the counts from HUD say that our homeless numbers are decreasing, but out street counts are showing slight increases," Acaldo said. 

A most recent one-night street count revealed there were nearly 100 homeless people in the Baton Rouge area in January, St. Vincent de Paul officials said Wednesday.

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