Earlier this month, rows of mats with blankets covered the gymnasium floor at Courthouse Community United Methodist Church. It was a Monday evening. Savory smells of a Filipino inspired dinner greeted 60 homeless men and women as they came in. Colorful paper place-mats made by the church’s children decorated the round tables. Welcome to Winter Shelter.
During the coldest months of the year, JCOC and the City of Virginia Beach partners with a different faith-based organization every week to provide temporary warm shelter to the homeless. Our staff provides oversight of the guests from the time they arrive every night through the time they leave the following morning. The hosting places of worship recruit volunteers to make and serve dinner and breakfast throughout the week. Winter Shelter began last November and runs through March 18th.
Courthouse Community has been hosting a week of Winter Shelter for six years. The week is well thought out including a birthday night where it is everyone’s birthday complete with cupcakes and singing; communion is offered each evening; and the youth group volunteered Sunday night.
“They are our guests for that week,” said Cary McBride, head of congregational care. “They are a part of our congregation.” Several guests even opted to return for Sunday services on their own!
A man named Steve was eating dinner with everyone. Only after talking with him for a few minutes was it discovered he was a guest and not a volunteer. A welding engineer with a college degree, he had worked as a contractor for the Department of Defense for ten years in Virginia. Then he lost his job. The 35-year-old is originally from Michigan. He stays because there are more opportunities here than at home.
Savings soon ran out. Living in a cheap motel wasn’t even an option when Steve found out about Winter Shelter last November. Hopeful, he goes to the Day Support program at the Housing Resource Center in Virginia Beach throughout the week. He said, “You have to stay focused. Keep pushing forward.”
We will drop by Winter Shelter again in February to see how Steve is doing and meet volunteers from the host church that week. Stay tuned, and thank you for helping us break the cycle of homelessness all year long!
2018-2019 Winter Shelter Season Stats.:
- 327 different homeless men and women stayed at least one night.
- Guests stayed an average of 136 nights.
- 93 guests were between the ages of 45 and 54.
- 38 veterans participated at least one night.