Five consecutive years of deficit spending is forcing the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in St. Paul to close its two temporary-housing centers, which have provided shelter to more than 750 homeless women since 1986.

Collectively known as the Home of the Good Shepherd, the center will close Dec. 31 "despite valiant efforts by the board, staff and friends in the community," said Sister Mary Rosaria Baxter, provincial superior.

"We were trying to provide a new-car program at used-car prices," said board chairwoman Judy Kishel.

The two facilities are the Wellsprings Living Center, which offers services to women 25 and older, and the Rose Center, which serves women 18 to 24. The organization is working with other nonprofit housing agencies to find shelter for the 27 women who currently live there. They hope to have arrangements made for all of them by next week.

Less fortunate are the 11 staff members who are losing their jobs, said Linda Tacke, interim executive director.

"They are being cast adrift in some very rough economic seas," she said.

It is yet to be determined what will happen with the buildings. Wellsprings consists of cottages on the Sisters of the Good Shepherd campus in North Oaks and likely will be converted to other uses. Rose Center, an apartment building in St. Paul, will be leased out if a buyer cannot be found.

The cutback affects only the order's temporary-housing centers, Tacke said. The other programs, including a prayer ministry, medical service for retired sisters and a fair-trade partnership, will continue unchanged.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have been in St. Paul since 1868 "and they're not going any place," she said.

The former executive director, Sister Madeleine Munday, was promoted to a leadership position in the order's St. Louis headquarters shortly before the decision to close the centers was finalized. But she knew what was coming. With the economy in free fall, the housing program had to find a way to support itself financially, and the outlook was grim.

"We did an assessment study on the long-term sustainable resources, and it was apparent that things weren't going to work out," she said. Nonetheless, "the sisters' leadership team agonized over the decision. It was very difficult."

The program has been a resounding success, officials said. Women who were defined as "at risk" for reasons including addiction, abuse issues or mental health were eligible for housing for up to two years, during which time they received training in becoming self-reliant. According to the most-recent statistics, 84 percent of the participants accomplished that.

Tacke said that it was only the order's benevolence that kept the centers from closing two years ago. But, ultimately, the money ran out.

"Basically, the Sister of the Good Shepherd kept it going by footing the bill," she said. "They have been extremely generous. But given their capacity, they couldn't do it anymore."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392