Just Say Yes
Wednesday, November 16th was opening night for A Home For Everyone In Dekalb's Winter Shelter.
A partnership between "A Home " and the Decatur First United Methodist Church (DFUMC), work to coordinate the shelter began in April.
Marion Owen, a board member for “A Home” and a part of its Cold Weather Committee, shared her insights on what it took to coordinate the winter shelter.
“It's been two years since we've been able to host people in an indoor shelter because of Covid restrictions. In the interim, we handed out cold weather supplies to those in need. After all the hard work it took to coordinate the shelter, it was so gratifying,” Marion said to see the families at the shelter.
Originally, the goal for the Cold Weather Committee was to find a church willing to be the overall manager of the winter shelter, so it was a bit disappointing when no church had that capacity this winter. Plan B thus began with A Home doing overall coordination with Decatur First United Methodist Church providing safe, secure, convenient space along with volunteers and some supplies.
It was announced that the City of Decatur was hiring Frontline to a run a shelter for single men and women starting December 1st, so "A Home" decided it would focus on a shelter for families. The word was put out throughout the community so that families would know where to come.
So, the work began, according to Marion, to assemble a supply of air mattresses, blankets, and other materials to outfit the shelter. Then came the challenge of finding a team of shelter managers--people willing to take on interim work as well as be willing to spend the night at the shelter.
It was agreed that each of the 7 members of the Cold Weather Committee would pick a night to act as shelter host. Then, the committee members met at the church to learn what was involved in serving as a host. It has been a huge undertaking because there is so much to learn and it's impossible to remember all of it.
The list includes making sure that there are supplies for each person such as fresh masks, towels and washcloths for the showers, soap, shampoo, and toilet paper in the bathrooms. Socks and underwear are also provided to our guests. Shelter hosts each take a turn bringing home the towels to be washed. There is also paperwork that needs to be filled out for each guest and volunteer. It was decided that each guest would receive a blanket one time that they could keep with them because it is not feasible to provide a new blanket every time.
The biggest challenge, as Marion sees it, is finding volunteers willing to spend the night at shelter.
Even though the shelter manager is there to oversee activities during the night, there would also be the need for an overnight volunteer to help out.. Volunteers are mostly drawn to the tasks of providing food and helping people to get settled in at the shelter; it's much harder to find someone to spend the night.
Another huge challenge was that DFUMC requested that all volunteers go through "Safe Sanctuary" training before they could volunteer at the shelter. Marion said that potential volunteers understand and respect why this training is important, but it still limits the number of people willing to sign up.
Although the main focus of our shelter is housing families, we are able to take in others in need of shelter as well. Families are asked to come early so that they know how many open spaces there are for others, with 23 being the maximum number that can be accommodated each night. Once families are sheltered, shelter hosts can go to Threshold Ministries at Decatur Presbyterian Church, where they meet others needing a place for the night.. Marion shared that one of the most difficult things for her is when there is not sufficient room and some people have to be turned away to spend a cold night outside.
This winter Dekalb County is opening 4 fire stations as warming centers on cold nights. "A Home" has coordinated with other groups providing transportation to these centers, with the goal that no one has to be left out in the cold.
I asked Marion what she would most like people to know about the running of the shelter and she said "There's nothing special about the people doing this work. It just got put in my face, and it's hard to say no. Say ‘yes’ in every way that you can say ‘yes.’ It doesn't take a special person it just takes a person who says ‘yes’. "
The shelter will be open on all nights when the temperature is 35 degrees or below. We need YOUR help to make it happen. If you'd like to volunteer, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just sign up when the signup link is sent.