Churches help save homeless from winter’s bite

This could be the future of human services.

It’s promising, efficient and heartfelt.

Churches in the Lynnwood area not only feed the hungry year-round, they open doors for overnight stays when it’s brrrr outside.

As city, county, state and federal budgets shrink, some have predicted that churches will be called upon to fill service gaps.

Several already are rolling. They are quietly meeting needs through the hands of dedicated volunteers who offer warm chili and attentive ears to the down and out.

The way it works is well-oiled. Word spreads among those who sleep in cars, under overpasses or in tents to meet at the Lynnwood Fire Station No. 15 or the Lynnwood Library.

Church folks hope antifreeze does the job on bus engines so they may venture out on icy roads, picking up those who could otherwise die of exposure.

Homeless or out-of-luck men, women and children are taken to Trinity Lutheran Church or Good Shepherd Baptist Church. Teams from at least eight congregations work the room, serve dinner, show a funny film, play cards and just listen.

Eileen Hanson, pastor of Trinity, said many who drop in simply want to hunker down and snooze.

Breakfast is served. Folks are bused back to the center of town clutching their possessions and a freshly packed lunch.

The Emergency Cold Weather Shelter program is open when it’s below 34 degrees for four or more hours overnight. Last year they were open for 34 nights and offered 478 beds to a diverse group, including a 10-year-old and his father, two pregnant women and low-income seniors.

Hanson said even though some of the smaller churches in the area don’t have room for overnight guests, they send teams and goods.

She calls those who spend the night “guests.”

That says a lot about the attitude folks encounter at the churches. There are no Bible readings, she said. They don’t even say grace at meals.

“Faith is there,” Hanson said. “It’s not spoken, it’s lived.”

The overnight idea was offered by Marilyn Nadeau and Ray Zoellick, who volunteer at the Trinity Saturday Morning ministry. They offer breakfast, open conversation, a health assessment, bus tickets, shower vouchers, goods from the Edmonds Food Bank and clothing for as many as 165 guests.

Some Saturdays, guests can even get a free haircut.

The church, near 196th Street SW and Highway 99 in Lynnwood, the is a community gathering place.

“Last winter we welcomed people on Saturday mornings who had blue hands,” Hanson said. “Some stood over our floor vents for 10 minutes just to feel their feet again.”

Church members did not turn a blind eye. They studied other shelters, shared policies and procedures, networked with other congregations and came up with a plan.

Charlotte Lawson, 43, of Lynnwood helps procure goods for the program. She found herself several months ago with no job, a divorce and a toddler to house.

“I was on the verge of being a guest,” Lawson said.

She is stoked about the shelter program.

“On freezing nights, it’s the more the merrier,” she said. “I pray it gets cold enough. We have resources ready.”

Hanson sees the possibility of even more guests needing warmth this season. They are ready for crowds of sleepers and helpers.

“We’ve received inquiries from other churches in the area who would like to participate as well,” Hanson said. “We learned a lot this year in terms of logistics and communication, and all of the churches affirmed that they want to continue the network this winter.”

They encourage hope, she said.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.

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