Faith in actionPublished 10:46pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Fred has been homeless since December and hasn’t been able to find a job in two years. But he has had indoor shelter during this winter’s bitter cold thanks to the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk’s Night Stay Program.
Fred and a handful of others have been regulars at the program since it started on Jan. 1. Formed by the coalition of 19 churches that have pooled their resources to provide assistance to the underserved in Suffolk, the program has helped provide shelter for about eight people each night this winter.
On a recent night at Suffolk Christian Church, Fred and five others who showed up dined on meatloaf in the church’s fellowship hall and then went upstairs. Some went straight to bed, while others watched television, read books or talked with volunteers, who stay throughout the night.
Some nights, the volunteers transport the participants to a truck stop so they can take showers. A volunteer sometimes takes participants’ laundry home and does it for them.
Breakfast was served in the morning, and the participants got a packed lunch to eat later. Some went to their jobs, and the others went looking for a job.
Suffolk Christian currently is in the middle of a two-week stint hosting the program. Other churches that have hosted this winter are Magnolia United Methodist Church, Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church, James River Community Church and Village Christian Fellowship. Others are providing meals and volunteers. Transportation is provided from downtown to the far-flung churches.
Volunteers at Suffolk Christian say the program has opened eyes and shattered stereotypes in their church.
“It’s just been a moving, very eye-opening experience,” said Cheryl Griffin, who has helped coordinate the program. “It’s been amazing watching God in action. This was definitely God’s plan for this church.”
“I think this was something we really needed to do,” added Stephanie Remy, another coordinator at Suffolk Christian. “We’re a downtown church; this is what we’re supposed to do.”
The participants — even the small sample of six at the church recently — can’t be pigeonholed into one racial, age or gender demographic. Some of them have jobs, and the rest want to work and are actively looking for jobs. They’re not hardened criminals. A couple of the participants have come to church on Sunday mornings.
“They’re not drug addicts and alcoholics,” Griffin said. “They don’t want trouble. They just want a warm place to sleep.”
CAPS coordinator Lorna Slaughter said this year’s unusually cold winter has reinforced her belief that the Night Stay program was sorely needed.
“I think this has been one of the coldest winters we’ve had for a while,” Slaughter said. “The timing of this program couldn’t have been pinpointed better.”
She said about eight people have used the program each night, but there are more out there who aren’t showing up, she said.
“I get plenty of phone calls for the need, but there’s people that are reluctant to be in a shelter,” she said. “The need is far more than we’re sheltering.”
She also said the volunteers are receiving a blessing, too.
“The feedback I’m getting from the churches that are hosting this is that this is doing just as much for them and their congregation as we are doing for the people who are participating,” Slaughter said. “Once you do this, you can’t go back to church as usual.”
The Rev. Michael Halley of Suffolk Christian Church agreed.
“I really think it’s changed our church forever,” he said. “Night Stay is one of our continuing efforts to look outward and look at our community and our world and find ways we can be faithful to what God wants us to be and to do.”
More hosts and volunteers still are needed for the last three weeks of the program, Slaughter said. Call her at 539-2600 for more information.