St. Catherine's Chattanooga facility for women, children receives renovation

St. Catherine's Chattanooga facility for women, children receives renovation

October 23rd, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Local Regional News

The Rev. Ann Weeks, left, and Deanne Irvine put the finishing touches on the recently renovated St. Catherine's homeless shelter for women Tuesday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church downtown.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


• What: St. Catherine's Shelter open house

• When: 12:30 p.m. Sunday

• Where: St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 305 W. Seventh St.

• Admission: Free

• Phone: 266-8195

It all began with the need for a stove.

Several months and nearly $200,000 later, the homeless women and children who find temporary homes in St. Catherine's Shelter at St. Paul's Episcopal Church have a completely renovated quarters.

"The sleeping area -- eight beds -- was an open, paneled dormitory with little storage," said Sally Durand, a member of the church and the former chairwoman of the congregation's Outreach Committee. "We envisioned a real kitchen with a stove, some privacy for our guests and a new bathroom."

In time, the church and wider community were brought on board.

"The dream began to grow as we shared the idea," said Deanne Irvine, the church's liaison to the shelter. "It wasn't too long before it grew into a goal. ... We held open houses for parishioners, making it easy for [them] to see the value a renovation could have for the women.

"What might [be labeled] a grassroots movement swelled to inspire a few of us to seek grants and other donations to make the dream a reality."

With help from various foundations, businesses and individuals, plus architect Rick Lee and contractor John Coffelt whose services were donated or discounted, a full makeover was possible.

"It was literally a total renovation," said the Rev. Donald Allston Fishburne, rector of the church. "It was top to bottom, and now it's more attractive. And there is much more privacy for the women and their daughters who come to us."

The shelter opened its doors in the church's undercroft in 1996 and has partnered with the Chattanooga Community Kitchen for its operation since.

In the past, its eight beds weren't always full, said Charlie Hughes, executive director of the Community Kitchen.

"But as the economy worsened, the more it was full and the more cramped the space appeared," he said. The congregation, he added, wanted something better and nice.

"I can't stress their compassion level enough. They just care; they go above and beyond," Hughes said.

The shelter, painted throughout in a warm taupe with white trim, now accommodates 14 women, children and infants, according to Fishburne, "in a warm and welcoming environment" that includes a second fire entrance, raised ceiling, electric wiring updates, additional fire abatement, and renovated bedrooms, bathroom facilities, living room and kitchen.

Church officials worked closely with the architect, the city and the fire department to be sure the renovations met or exceeded code, he said.

The individual "roomettes" have custom-built, wooden beds with storage drawers underneath. Several of the rooms have trundle beds if the women have young children with them. The space also affords built-in tables with drawers, built-in storage on the walls and privacy curtains on the doors.

"Oh, wow," Mary Lakes, an employee of the Community Kitchen, said as she toured the space on Wednesday, "I can't believe it. I used to be right over there in that corner."

Her corner, when she was a resident of the shelter, is now one of the roomettes.

While the renovation work was being done, from late May through October, women and children stayed in a 10-room area at the Community Kitchen that was not being used, Hughes said. They'll return to the shelter late next week.

While much of the funding for the renovation came from the community beyond St. Paul's Episcopal, with the largest donation coming from the Weldon F. Osborne Foundation, the church annually provides the facility, utilities, maintenance, risk management and insurance, plus some volunteers and some supplies.

The Community Kitchen, according to Fishburne, operates the shelter and screens, encourages and cares for clients in a program designed to help them return to long-term housing of their own. The organization also screens, trains, schedules and supervises volunteers and receives operating costs of about $16,000 from the church.

In 2012, according to Community Kitchen officials, the shelter served 276 women and 54 children.

Contact Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at