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Community Coalitions Fighting Homelessness Include Churches

Community Coalitions Fighting Homelessness Include Churches
New Hope Center in Cadillac, Mich., seen here under construction this past winter, is being built by a wide network of volunteers
Mark Morgan

Cadillac Christian Reformed Church in Cadillac, Mich., Oak Harbor CRC in Oak Harbor, Wash., and churches in London, Ont., are each participating in community coalitions working toward sheltering community members without housing.

This winter projects in the three cities have led to new buildings or innovative approaches to providing shelter.

New Hope Center in Cadillac is in the midst of a new building project. A collaboration of a local hospital and the area’s ministers association, New Hope has been serving people experiencing homelessness in Wexford and Missaukee counties for almost 30 years. The current network of five different and aging facilities for men, women, and families is no longer efficient.

“They need a lot of repair, and they’re scattered all over. It was a daily run-around with case managers and social workers, and it's hard to manage,” said New Hope board member Mark Mogan, who is a member of Cadillac CRC. Mogan has been volunteering with New Hope since the beginning. He said it has touched a lot of people personally, having provided housing for more than 6,000 people over its existence.

Mogan is the building lead for the construction, which started last May. Incorporating a lot of volunteer labor, the project is expected to be completed this spring.

“One of the beautiful things is that we have a bunch of churches in our community that support New Hope—with treasure, but also with talent and time—men and women of all ages,” Mogan said. Part of his responsibilities include coordinating the volunteers.

“I’ve met more people in my community—people of integrity,” Mogan said. “The neat thing about working with people is you don’t have to tell them why they’re there. I find myself not knowing everything I have to do, I just expect experts to show up on time.”

In Oak Harbor, Wash., a church-based shelter called Haven is about to move to a permanent home. Haven opened in April 2017, the result of churches and community partners working together. “We knew that homelessness was a problem,” said Oak Harbor CRC member Frances Stevens. “We wanted to try and prevent it from being a bigger problem. Our group consisted of four different churches, Island Co. housing support system, and a member from one of our local Rotary clubs.”

They began working with Whidbey Homeless Coalition in 2015. The Coalition was already providing overnight shelter at a local church on cold nights, and Stevens' group wanted to try a low barrier, behavior-based, overnight shelter—a shelter that does not require background checks or a curfew and people are welcome as long as they respect everyone there. Stevens said, “Since WHC was already organized as a nonprofit, they worked with us to develop our program, Haven, under the direction of their board.”

Since 2017, Oak Harbor CRC and two other churches have shared a rotation, hosting people every night from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. for six to nine months of the year.

Now, after the Coalition received a grant and was able to purchase a building for a permanent shelter, Stevens expects the churches to remain involved. "Even though it will no longer be necessary to use the church building, I am sure our congregation will continue to do what we can with volunteer efforts to support the Haven,” Stevens said.

In London, Ont., established community partnerships led to a new approach over the past winter with WISH—Winter Interim Solution to Homelessness—creating temporary popup shelters. Exeter (Ont.) CRC, about 60 km (37 miles) from London, had a supplies drive for the effort before Christmas. Pastor Kevin teBrake said many different organizations, including CRC congregations, supported the work of WISH.

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