The forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid-20s, but inside the fellowship hall of a church in Douglas County, a diverse community is enjoying a hearty home-cooked meal and lively …
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The forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid-20s, but inside the fellowship hall of a church in Douglas County, a diverse community is enjoying a hearty home-cooked meal and lively conversation. Some of the people gathered just met while others are catching up on what has happened in their lives over the last week.
By 9:30 p.m. some people have gone home to sleep in their beds and some have settled onto the cots on the other side of the fellowship hall. From Nov. 1 through March 31, this scene is repeated nightly at local churches which, through participation in the Winter Shelter Network, host women and children from Douglas County who are experiencing homelessness.
Launched in 2016, WSN was designed to leverage the strengths of our local churches: compassion, space, volunteers and hospitality. Each night of the week, a host church opens its doors to guests who have been admitted to the Winter Shelter Network. Generosity and fellowship are extended to guests from the moment they walk in the door until the shelter doors close the next morning.
Guests are given a safe place to rest, all three meals for the day, and an opportunity to connect with their neighbors. Those three gifts — rest, meals, and connection — are at the core of the mission of WSN.
In the first two winter seasons, WSN provided 2,209 bed nights to guests in the shelter; 2,110 volunteers generously gave more than 27,000 hours to the program. The value of the meals donated by the overnight host churches was over $33,000.
Those statistics tell just part of the story of the impact of WSN. Some people might argue that the most meaningful impact of the program is seen through the connection that the guests make with volunteers, other guests, and with resources to help them get back on their feet. The WSN Care Coordinator works to help the guests identify and break down barriers that are preventing them from achieving the stability they desire.
This past season, all of the guests who were able to work found jobs or increased their income while staying in the shelter. Several guests moved into transitional or permanent housing.
Many of the guests who come to the Winter Shelter Network are single women between the age of 40 and 70. Some of these women are experiencing homelessness for the first time while others have spent several years living out of their vehicle.
Regardless of how long they have been homeless, they share a lack of relational support from family or friends. The diverse community built through WSN becomes a network of support and an opportunity for hope. It changes the lives of guests and volunteers.
One volunteer said this about her experience, “I realized they were no different from me. They had a childhood and a past, filled with jobs, family, schooling, travel and experiences …. and dreams for the future. I was encouraged to see the flame of hope that was still in their hearts, even in the midst of the toughest of circumstances. It felt surreal as I drove home each morning. Passing hundreds of cars rushing about … on their way to work as the sun was rising. A piece of my heart was left back in that big room with those hurting women and children whom we tend to forget amidst the hustle and bustle of our busy lives . ..I had a new thankfulness for my warm house, food to eat and family that was safe and provided for.”
Erin White is the program administrator for Winter Shelter Network. For additional information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website: wintershelternetwork.com. This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6 at Roxborough Park Foundation, 6237 Roxborough Drive, Littleton, CO 80125. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m.
This meeting’s topics will be the Ride Together Transit update and 2018 Winter Shelter Network. For more information, go online to MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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