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St. Ignatius church turns empty hotel into temporary housing

A project to turn a motel into an emergency/ temporary housing facility to help those in need almost didn’t get started.

Pastor Lynn Lapka and his wife, Holly Lapka, of the Cornerstone Faith Center, noticed a need for temporary housing in the last decade since they started working at the church. Lynn said he receives phone calls about people needing help all the time. 

“I see different people constantly running into emergencies after losing a job or something happening to their housing, including fires, all kinds of issues,” he said. “We often see people needing a place to stay for a couple days to major emergencies where people are left homeless.”

The couple saw the Sunset Motel go up for sale about five years ago and it triggered an idea. They thought they might be able to raise enough funds through donations to purchase the building and turn it into a housing project. 

They continued to think about how the project might be sustained long term to pay for things like electricity. About seven years ago, their church developed Cornerstone Pizza shop in the same town. Profits from the business go back into the community to help people. They recently donated funds to the school so the eighth grade Mission Middle School students could afford to take a week-long trip across Montana to learn about historical sites. The business also provides local jobs.

With the pizza project in mind, the Lapka’s decided to keep a few motel rooms open for regular customers to bring in revenue, and they thought coffee might be another income possibility. The motel already contained a small coffee shop. 

With the idea in place, volunteers from the church decided to try and make it happen. Funding the project has been the biggest obstacle. “This was all a step of faith,” Holly said. “We decided to take the step and see what would happen. It was in the Lord’s hands. If he wanted us to do this, the funding would come in.”

After several years, it started looking like the project wasn’t meant to be. Fundraising efforts brought in donations, but never enough. The tension picked up when an individual not wanting to create a housing project made an offer on the hotel. The Cornerstone group needed to take action or risk losing the building to another buyer. 

In January, the church made an offer, but still needed to raise $60,000. With a sigh of relief, the Lapka’s announced that the offer was accepted, and the volunteers went into action to raise the remaining balance. They had 90 days to get the funds.

The goal was to purchase the motel without any remaining debt to ensure the project would have the best chance of being successful - so loans weren’t an option. Local churches, a church in Missoula, foundations, and individuals donated enough money to make the project happen. The motel was purchased in April by the Cornerstone Faith Center for $185,000. 

“We did have doubt that it wasn’t going to happen, but God came through,” Lynn said. 

Funding was secured along with a little extra to start remodeling the outside of the building. The exterior was remodeled first because volunteers wanted to give back to the community right from the start.

“We wanted people to see that we are serious about this project, and also to give the building a facelift and make the community look nice,” Lynn said.

New siding was installed, the building painted and windows updated. A sign with the name “Cornerstone Crossing” was also put up on the front of the building. 

Volunteers are working to remodel the inside coffee shop by giving it a new coat of paint, flooring, and fixtures. Tables will eventually be set up to make it a place where people can get together, drink coffee, and support a project to help people. A few rooms are also being remodeled. 

Lynn said volunteers aren’t in a hurry to get the remodel project finished. The idea is to take a slow and steady pace to make sure that it’s done right. He also needs time he said to organize the application process to help people in need. A support team will also be set up to help those in need set goals and find permanent living situations. 

The Lapkas said they are working without a model and haven’t seen anything done like this done before. “We are setting it up to best suit the needs of the community and changing things along the way to meet those needs,” Lynn said.   

Money for remodeling projects is still needed and new volunteers are welcome. Holly said if any students need volunteer hours for graduation, they are welcome to help. 

The housing project and coffee shop could be opened as soon as this fall once the support staff are put in place, the rooms are finished, and the coffee is ready to brew.

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