Churches step up services for the homeless during the winter, and some offer buildings as shelter – Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Congregations throughout the Episcopal Church have long supported efforts to help the homeless, whether seeking accommodation, a nutritious meal, or a friendly conversation. The urgency of such ministries increases during the winter months, when a lack of shelter can become life-threatening.

While communities in cold weather arrange night shelters and day centers to keep people warm, some episcopal congregations provide space in their own churches and parish halls to welcome guests who experience homelessness.

In Springfield, Virginia, the Episcopal Church of St. Christopher turned its parish hall into a makeshift shelter for a week, from January 2 to 9, to accommodate about 25 people who had nowhere to go. The church is one of several religious communities in Fairfax County that alternately welcome such guests in their buildings as part of the district’s hypothermia prevention program. The program runs from December 1 to March 31 and serves more than 1,000 individuals each year.

In addition to cooling during the week when St. Christopher welcomed night guests in his parish hall, the region was covered by significant snow one day, said the Rev. Carey Connors, chief priest in an interview with the Episcopal News Service. Also, another shelter in the district lost power and temporarily sent some individuals to stay in St. Louis. Christopher’s.

“We have had less interaction with our guests this year,” Connors said, citing the need to maintain physical distance due to the latest increase in COVID-19 cases. However, volunteers from her congregation prepared dinner in the evening and breakfast in the morning for the guests during the week. They also cook a monthly meal which is distributed through the local social organization FACETS.

Fairfax County nonprofits and religious groups are working tirelessly to ensure that no one has to sleep outside during the winter, “said Tom Barnett, deputy director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development, in an online announcement from the district’s hypothermia prevention program.

Volunteers work in the kitchen at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Christopher in Springfield, Virginia, during the week in early January when the church welcomed 25 guests for dinner and overnight as part of church help for the homeless. Photo: Carey Connors

People experiencing homelessness in St. Louis, Missouri, sometimes have the option of spending the night at Christ Church Cathedral. It offers space for up to 14 people seeking night shelter from the cold on Tuesdays and Wednesday evenings, and volunteers provide dinner and breakfast. And for some of the guests welcomed to Christ Church Cathedral, their stay was made a little more enjoyable by donations of sleeping rugs created by volunteers at St. Episcopal Church. Michael in O’Fallon, Illinois, a suburb east of St. Louisa. The group met for four years on Thursdays in St. Louis. Michael’s, knitting rugs from recycled plastic shopping bags.

“The mats are blessed in the church and sent together, with our prayers, to the person in need,” Judie Paye, a lead volunteer, told O’Fallon Progress. “On snowy nights when they have no more room in the shelter, I can give them a rug.”

The Baptismal Covenant of Bishops calls them, as Christians, to “strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.” That commitment supports much of the church’s work with the homeless, and the potential need is great: by 2020, an estimated 580,000 people will experience homelessness one night in the United States, according to the latest data from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In Terre Haute, Indiana, the parish hall is open to those who need a place to warm up this winter. A row of cribs is set up against the wall next to the tables where parishioners would usually gather for a coffee hour on Sundays.

This is the second year that St. Stephen’s teamed up with an organization called Reach Services to provide shelter for the homeless as thermometer readings fall to single digits and lower in Terre Haute. On these dangerously cold nights, the parish hall remains open from 5:30 pm to 8 am, and guests are served dinner and breakfast.

Susan Thompson, executive director of Reach Services, told the News and Tribune that her organization is grateful for the hospitality of St. Stephen. “We want people who are facing housing problems to stay well,” Thompson said. “We don’t want tragedy if we are not proactive.”

In Montclair, New Jersey, Toni’s Kitchen is the Ministry of Food at St. Episcopal Church. Luke, and this month, as the weather got colder, she received a $ 10,000 grant from the Montclair City Council to open as a day center to warm up homeless people.

Anne Mernin, CEO of Toni’s Kitchen, told Montclair Local that the church first served as a warm-up center a year ago, when a pandemic forced the closure of other public places where homeless people went to warm up.

“The library is closed. The cafe was closed. “The indoor dining room in the feeding programs is closed,” said Mernin, describing the conditions during the corona virus outbreak last winter. This winter, the omicron variant increased the number of COVID-19 cases, again limiting the options available to people trying to enter from the cold, so Tony’s Kitchen committed to opening its doors on weekdays in the afternoon and Saturday mornings until March. Everyone is invited to come for hot food and coffee.

One ministry in the diocese of western Massachusetts recently also received a grant to expand its winter activities to homeless people. Manna Community Center at the Episcopal Church of St. John’s in Northampton is working with Community Action Group Pioneer Valley, which has provided $ 211,000 in federal money to help the pandemic for their joint efforts.

One of the partnership’s goals is to develop a permanent community resilience center in Northampton, building on Mannina’s existing range of services for the homeless, including hot meals, showers and laundry. The city also promotes Manna as a day center for warming up during severe cold weather.

“As followers of Jesus, we are called to follow the path of love,” said the Rev. Anna Woofenden, Rector of St. John’s, for the Hampshire Gazette. “Walking through love includes feeding the hungry, dressing those who need clothes and caring for our neighbors. The work of Mann and the Pioneer Valley Community Action does just that. ”

Dangerous cold may seem less likely in a place like Hot Springs in Arkansas, but don’t let the name of the city fool you. He is not immune to low temperatures – and even to snowstorms, such as the one that hit the region on January 15.

Volunteers from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church have worked with other congregations, nonprofits and city agencies to provide a temporary warm-up center at the First United Methodist Church during the extreme winter, especially when temperatures drop to 20 degrees in Hot Springs. The community coalition also worked this month to open a second shelter at Lakeview Assembly Church of God.

“This is part of what we are doing. That’s the real thing, “Sally Carder, St. Paul’s Volunteer Coordinator, told Sentinel-Record. Luke. “We’re trying to protect people.”

– David Paulsen is the editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. It can be obtained at [email protected].

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