Changes Coming to Emergency Shelter for the Homeless in the F-M Region

Shelters officials say they cannot always take in every homeless person looking for a place to stay overnight

REGIONAL — More than 30 churches in our area will not be providing emergency sheltering to the homeless this winter.

Shelters cannot always take in every homeless person looking for a place to stay overnight.

“That’s the hardest part of what we do here at the shelters,” Pastor Sue Koesterman said.  Koesterman is executive director of Churches United for the Homeless.

It’s not just during the winter season where people need a place to stay.

“On any given night in this community, we have upwards of about 1,000 people experiencing homelessness and so the need is always there knowing that we have significantly less shelter beds than that,” said Cody Schuler, who is with the F-M Homeless Coalition.

Six years ago, F-M shelters partnered with organizations across the community, like the Homeless Coalition, to fix that.

They created the Sheltering Churches Program to provide emergency overnight shelter in church buildings on a rotating basis for six years.

“The people that were needing to refer to emergency overflow shelter have a higher level of need and a higher level of vulnerability,” Koesterman said. “It’s not appropriate to shelter them in a location that is staffed only by volunteers and rotates week by week.”

Koesterman says level of need is determined by where someone slept the night before, age, chronic physical conditions and mental illness.

Although the project is ending, Koesterman says Churches United continues to get homeless people into housing as quickly as possible.

The average length of stay at Churches United has decreased over the years from 90 days to 35 days.

“That decision to keep numbers at a level where we can serve effectively was a good decision because it helps people to get into stable housing quickly,” Koesterman said.

Churches United still has more than 80 people seeking shelter on any given night.

Schuler says to end the cycle of homelessness, it will take the entire community.

“We believe that we can end homelessness and at least long term homelessness in our community if we all work in the same playbook,” Schuler said.

The New Life Center will take in the overflow of homeless men this winter but Churches United is still discussing where women and families will go.

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