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Night Stay program to start earlier

With the weather getting colder much earlier this year, Suffolk’s homeless population is struggling to stay warm.

The Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk is hosting its Night Stay Program for the sixth year. The program takes in the homeless population into churches so that they won’t be spending their evening out on the streets during the winter.

The program will run from Nov. 28 until April 10 this year.

The program, which started in January in prior years, has slowly been expanding because of temperatures dropping lower earlier in the year.

“That has been a real concern for us. It usually doesn’t get this cold this quickly, and there is nowhere for them to go,” said Night Stay coordinator Cheryl Griffin. “We have a lot of people calling, but we don’t have anywhere to go at this point. We didn’t have any churches willing to open earlier.”

CAPS has attempted to find a warm place to sleep and transportation for every week of the winter months, but they are still having trouble finding churches that are willing to help fill the void.

“We still have a few unfilled weeks this year, and we need host churches. We also need churches to help with transportation,” Griffin said. “We have filled weeks with places to stay but no way to get them there.”

Griffin has concerns, because the needs of the homeless population are growing in Suffolk, but not enough churches are extending help to compensate for the growth.

“Our homeless population is growing leaps and bounds. Our first year, we averaged five people a night, and last year, we averaged 13,” Griffin said. “The population is growing, and I expect a lot more and get a lot of phone calls looking for shelter.”

She believes the lack of help is due to the stereotypes surrounding homeless people.

“I think the churches are afraid to get involved because of stereotyping,” Griffin said. “Fear and anxiety are big until they actually get involved. The homeless are working people that don’t make enough to pay rent.”

Churches that participate as a place to stay are only responsible for breakfast and dinner and providing volunteers to staff the church.

Griffin hopes that churches in the area can recognize the need and volunteer more time for the homeless population.

“If we could get enough churches, we could start early and end later,” Griffin said.

For more information, visit capssuffolk.org/night-stay.