Sun Prairie shelter succeeds in helping homeless women and children
Sun Prairie Star October 29, 2019 • By Jennifer Fetterly

An Angel prayed and God listened.

That’s the way the 38-year-old with the heavenly name explains how her life has improved over the last months.

She was homeless with a 16-old-month son staying at the Salvation Army. She would check out each morning and not know each night where she could stay. Some told her she should sleep in her car.

Today Angel’s attitude is a whole lot brighter. Within the same week, she found a job and was accepted into the Shelter from the Storm Ministries shelter in Sun Prairie.

The faith-based organization provides wraparound support for women and their children—giving them shelter, food, access to services—financial, therapy and job-training—all with the intent to give them a lift up.

“I now have a very positive attitude,” Angel said of the support she has received from staff, volunteers and other moms at the shelter. “I know that I have a place for me and my son to lay our heads and we don’t have to leave.”

Proven success

Shelter from the Storm Ministries (SFTSM), opened its shelter doors in June 2017 and is on track to help 75 women and children this year. Families can stay 12 months, giving them a safe place and the resources to get their life back on track.

“The vision that we had for this organization is being done right now, we are absolutely doing it. We are quietly changing dozens of lives,” said Shelter from the Storm Ministries board member Cynthia Whiteaker.

Referrals come from the Salvation Army, churches and the Sun Prairie School District, which reported 116 homeless students last spring.

Preference is given to Sun Prairie residents, so they can stay in the community where they go to school and work.

Rick Martin, another (SFTSM) founding member, said homelessness in Sun Prairie isn’t always noticeable.

“People don’t know about it because the homeless are not hanging out under bridges or on the street,” Martin said. “They are couch-surfing or living in their cars.”

The goal is to transition the families at the SFTSM shelter into long-term housing, teaching them new skills and making them eviction-proof.

Tami Fleming came on as executive director of Shelter from the Storm Ministries last March after working with homeless people at the Beacon, the homeless day shelter in Madison.

She’s also started Friends of the State Street Family, an outreach service for homeless people in Madison and Dane County.

Trauma, she said, is a main cause of homelessness, especially for women who have suffered domestic abuse or sexual abuse. Fleming says that the women and children who come to the shelter are also further traumatized by being homeless. They don’t trust people and are often withdrawn and don’t interact with people.

But she sees often sees a shift in women and kids who make SFTSM their home—slowly they start to relax and communicate and trust again.

“It is amazing to take families from the street and get them to a place that they feel stable and safe and see them blossoming and grow so they don’t repeat the cycle of poverty,” Fleming said.

The building was fully remodeled into a shelter with new rooms, a community kitchen, a play area, and a teen room. It’s bright and welcoming with little special touches made possible with volunteer labor and donations from local businesses.

“This place is for single moms and children, so why wouldn’t you want a nice place for them while they get back on their feet?” Fleming said.

The first step is providing a clean safe place to sleep and live. The families also have access to food, with a Second Harvest Food Pantry expected to open on-site soon.

Fleming said SFSTM isn’t a place to warehouse families but to provide them with resources to move forward.

“Anything that is practical and helps them succeed in life is what we want for them,” Fleming said. That includes job training and certification classes, either free or fee-based, that are done through partnerships with the Urban League of Greater Madison, YWCA, and MATC.

Recently one woman who cleaned hotel rooms for $11 an hour was able to boost her pay to $17.50 an hour after getting certified as a special education assistant.

“That was a huge jump for her,” Fleming said.

Janelle, an opportunity coach with SFSTM, helps the women navigate their finances.

“By the time that a family becomes homeless, they have let a lot of bills slip and have dug themselves into a pretty big hole,” Fleming said. “Janelle helps them sort out their budget, show them how to pay things down, negotiate with creditors, and get their credit scores up.”

That allows the single moms to rent an apartment when their time at SFSTM is up.

Trauma counseling is also available on-site for a reduced rate for the women and their children.

Angel said working with a therapist was an eye-opening experience for her.

“It has helped me a lot because I have been through a lot and I haven’t had the opportunity to grieve for a lot of stuff that I went through,” she said.

Her goal is to get a full-time job, see her two older daughters go to college and own a home—something she sees that as possible after talking with a Habitat for Humanity representative recently.

Life is hard, but there’s hope

Before coming to the Shelter from the Storm Ministries, Theresa remembers walking back and forth with her six kids, all their belongings in tow, from the library, parking lots, or any other place they could spend the day before they went back to the Salvation Army at night to sleep.

Ranging in age from 4-14, her kids carried the heavy burden of just surviving, she said.

“They were stressed, wondering where they were going to sleep at night and where they were going to get something to eat,” Theresa said.

She saw her kids shutdown and become withdrawn.

Since Theresa has been at Shelter from the Storm Ministries, she’s seen her kids change—once again getting back into their school work with some bringing their grades back up to a 4.0 GPA. She now sees them acting like kids again. “They go outside and play basketball,” Theresa said. “I am so happy to see them turn back to their old selves.”

A recent surprise came for Theresa when she said she prayed to God to help her out—and the next day she was able to find a vehicle that fit her whole family.

The funds came out of the SFTSM Car Ministry that helps women buy vehicles. The 31-year-old mom is also focused on other goals—going to school to earn her GED and then get a job as a corrections officer.

“Before I was living for the day, but now I am living for the future,” Theresa said.

Asking for help

It takes about $55 a day to support a family for one day at the Shelter from the Storm Ministries.

The shelter gets support from volunteers and in-kind donations but the bulk of the money comes from private donations.

The shelter started reaching out to supporters this month trying to cover a $46,000 budget gap through February 2020.

Whiteaker says the shelter is not in panic mode and no services will be cut or people turned away, but they are trying to find more money from individual donors and businesses.

“Whenever a business can come up alongside us and support us that is amazing because we can then come up alongside these women and their children and help them,” Whiteaker said, noting businesses have organized fundraisers and selected the organization as a holiday donation recipient.

Fleming said the shelter is non-denominational, so it’s open to all faith organizations, but that has kept federal, state and county funds out of reach.

“We don’t qualify for a lot of grants that other programs qualify for even though we are providing the same services,” Fleming said on the beat-the-bushes approach to finding all the funding opportunities available.

Fleming said the focus now is on sustainer donors—people who commit funding every month.

The organization has one main fundraiser now—the Hearts for the Homeless event—scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 9 at Buck and Honey’s restaurant in Sun Prairie.

Fleming said SFTSM wants to hold more fundraising events in the future.

When the shelter opened, there was a huge outpouring of support and publicity but Fleming said it’s normal to see a slide in attention. But she has faith, based on the donations they received when they alerted people of the budget shortfall earlier this month, that covering the budget gap is possible.

“I have been shown time and time again that the right people and the right amount of money and things that we need will show up because we are doing what God wants us to do,” Fleming said.

With the shelter now open for two years, it’s moving toward sustainability and growth.

Whiteaker said the hope for the future is to provide long-term affordable housing for women and children. Something critical with low vacancy rates and high rents in Dane County.

Moving on and improving their lives, is the goal for Theresa and other women at the shelter, they just need a little boost of support.

“I can think of a thousand reasons this shelter needs to be here,” Theresa said.

“It has helped me and other women and given us time to plan.”

Fleming says staff, volunteers, and supporters are all there to be cheerleaders to help these women and children.

“We provide the support and resources that gives them the power to map out their lives,” Fleming added, “and do what they want to do.”

To find out more about Shelter from the Storm Ministries, visit or call (608) 478-4465 or email Follow or like Shelter from the Storm Ministries on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.