It may currently be a hole in the ground, but in the not so distant future, the building that will fill it will help dozens of homeless people — especially women — have a safe place to get out of the Winnipeg cold.

In launching Siloam Mission’s $19-million capital campaign, called Make Room in Your Heart, Jim Bell, the organization’s chief executive officer, said the new two-storey, 54,300-square-foot building, will house 50 new overnight shelter beds — with up to 33 of them devoted solely for women.

“The bricks and mortar is important, but a lot bigger is the building of peoples’ lives,” Bell said at Monday’s launch to the campaign.

“Every year, more and more people come to us for help… there is a real homelessness crisis in our country. To do nothing about it would be unacceptable.”

The new building will be called the Buhler Centre, in recognition of the $3-million donation by local philanthropists John and Bonnie Buhler. It’s the largest, single private donation in Siloam’s 30-year history.

The couple said in a statement: “We believe that there are too many people in need in Winnipeg and that Siloam Mission is the best place to fill that need.”

On Monday, as part of the ceremonial groundbreaking, Siloam had two excavators ready to go and the machines both ripped out large chunks of soil for the ground-breaking ceremony.

Manitoba deputy premier Heather Stefanson said the province is giving Siloam $3 million for the project — $2 million from Manitoba Housing and $1 million from the federal-provincial investment in the affordable housing agreement — because “we believe everyone deserves a safe place to stay. There’s no doubt the large impact this project will have on our community.”

The City of Winnipeg is contributing $1.3 million to the project. “Siloam provides a critical support for our community and our community members… Siloam provides comfort and warmth on days like today,” Mayor Brian Bowman said. (With the wind chill, temperatures in Winnipeg hovered around the -35 C mark Monday morning.)

Meanwhile, Bell said the expansion, which is expected to be completed in 2020, will also help Siloam improve its in-house health-care clinic, by giving it room to have day recovery beds, as well as better the chances for homeless people to find permanent jobs by having case workers on-site helping with employment readiness.

Bell said the mission has had too many nights where it has had to say there’s no vacancy at the current 110-bed shelter, forcing staff to point 20 to 40 homeless people elsewhere.

“Every year, more men and women come to us for help and we have reached the limits of our ability to help, with our current resources,” he said. “Because of you, we have a chance to build. But we also have a chance to rebuild the lives of people. That’s what this expansion will allow us to do.”

Bell said although Siloam has commitments for $14.2 million of the campaign, from the three levels of government, local private foundations, and local philanthropists, it still needs another $4.8 million to hit its target.

Siloam is asking the public to help at www.siloammakeroom.ca