Our church yearly participates in a program called Interfaith Shelter that helps provide temporary shelter for homeless people. Those who are accepted into the program are prescreened and have case workers that help them try to find jobs, other resources they might need, etc.
The concept is that each church that participates hosts the participants for two weeks, providing three meals a day and a warm safe place to sleep at night. There are 12 participants in the program that can range from single people, married couples, single parents with children, married couples with children.
Some churches the sleeping facilities are primitive. An auditorium separated in two for the women and men, people sleeping on cots. Others are a bit more refined, separate rooms for families and shower facilities.
Much coordination has to go in to coordinate the needs for the guests as they are called for their 2-week stay. Food is needed for breakfast, lunch (a sack lunch usually since they need to leave the facilitate after breakfast) and dinner. Overnight hosts have to be provided for each night of the two weeks because one of the requirements is that the guests are not alone at the facilities they stay at without "supervision" and rules. Each guest knows what is expected of them, time they have to check in, time they have to leave, what they can have and can't have in their rooms, i.e. no weapons allowed.
Last year we were just starting to go to the church when they were hosting the shelter for their 2-week stint that we didn't get involved in it. It fascinated me and I looked forward to helping when it was our church's turn again.
Because our church does not have a permanent facility but meets in a high school, we partner with another church that has facilities that can house the guests. We agree to provide the food and other supplies and overnight hosts and they open their facilities for the homeless.
The program runs December through March.
Our church started their 2-week commitment last Saturday. Today was our community group, small group, fellowship group, whatever you want to call it, turn to bring dinner. We had signed up to provide dinner tonight. We had also signed up to bring supplies as needed, individually hubby and me helped bring juice needed and fruit needed.
We coordinated what we would make and showed up to serve dinner to the guests and eat with them.
Homeless is not the drug addict. Homeless is not the alcoholic. Homeless is families with children, couples having no jobs, no income, no benefits, no place to live.
Homeless was a dad raising his 14-month-old daughter alone because his wife, her mother, had been deported to Chile. Homeless was taking that daughter with him to job interviews because he didn't have anyone to watch her while he went to said interview. Yet she was well cared for, clean, loved.
Homeless was a mom with two children. Thankfully they were getting into an apartment tomorrow, one could hope they would be able to maintain it and not be on the streets again.
Homeless was grateful for the meal brought in. Homeless had hearty appetites. Homeless asked if there was dessert (yes) after they finished the main meal.
Homeless was the dad raising his 14-month-old daughter who said he fed her powdered milk in a can that he could add water to when he was out and about but he only had four more days of it. Tugging at the hearts of the moms there providing the meal, we pulled our money together to go to the store and buy some to help cover some of his need.
I was definitely humbled being with them. Despite it all, they were polite, grateful, friendly.
Most had no idea what they would do when the program ended at the end of March. The father with the 14-month-old thought he had a friend that would let him live in the back of their van.......I can't imagine.......
Hubby and son are going to be overnight hosts one day next week. They'll sleep on lumpy bunk beds instead of their usual warm beds with the comforts of home we take for granted, internet, cable TV. They'll have to get up early to get the people out and about, keeping them going to make sure they are out when they need to according to the rules of the program. Then they'll come home. Home. Somewhere safe, somewhere secure, somewhere familiar. They'll be put out a bit, but it will only be one night.
Yet so many are out there every day, every night, homeless. I can't imagine.
I can't do much, but what I can do, I will do.
I know there are other churches out there that participate in such programs like this. Yes it is a lot of work. Yes it takes commitment, yes it takes someone to coordinate it all. Usually it is only for two weeks out of a year.
Definitely worth it to help the least, the lost, the last.
Like Jesus would want us to do.
Whatever you do for the least, you do for me.
I am thankful our church has made the commitment to help what they can as they can.
I think we will always have the homeless with us. I think we need to do what we can as we can.
Because I think a lot of us are so close to being homeless too. I read somewhere that the average American is one paycheck away from being homeless.
These faces of homelessness will stay with me for a long time.......