Grassroots has involved religious congregations in the county in providing shelter in the past few winters to a large number of homeless individuals and families. By using existing community space that congregations use at other times during the week and using the members of that congregation to staff an overnight shelter, Grassroots has been able to serve homeless individuals that would have had no other resource for a warm place to spend a cold winter night. This past winter was fortunately more of a typical Maryland winter but could you imagine being homeless last winter during our historic snowstorms?
I had a chance yesterday to talk with Rev. Paige Getty from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia about their experience being a site for one week this past December as a cold weather shelter. I was interested in learning what motivated them to participate and how it had impacted their congregation.
The congregation became involved for the first time this past year because the timing was right. Some creative members of the congregation examined how their congregation could become involved after hearing about an urgent appeal from Grassroots about needing more congregations to participate in the Cold Weather Shelter Program. The congregation had discussed it before but there were issues that had stopped them from participating.
When the need was discussed with the congregation 140 members volunteered to participate. This response represented about 30% of their total congregation. Rev. Getty stated that this response was greater than anything else with which the congregation had become involved. Members responded strongly to this need as “living out their religious and social justice beliefs.” Unitarians have always responded to social justice issues but this effort would “put a face” on the issue of homelessness in our own community.
Members of the congregation participated in various ways. Some were drivers to pick up the homeless individuals to bring to their building, some made the meals and others assisted in the sleeping arrangements. Rev. Getty talked about how some members of her congregation ended up volunteering for additional nights after establishing a connection with some of the homeless individuals. One teenager learned from one of the homeless men that he had many of the same interests when he was a teenager. Other members saw how homelessness is something that can happen to anyone with the loss of a job, an illness or a personal setback. Most homeless don’t fit the stereotype of a chronically homeless person living on the street with an addiction issue. They are families with children and persons who could have been your neighbor.
Rev. Getty stated that this experience has resulted in their congregation developing a task force to look at new ways that they can address the issue of homelessness. The task force has discussed the issue of transitional housing and a sober house as areas that they want to examine. As she expressed it “Our congregation has developed a renewed spirit in living out our faith.”
If any congregation who would like to participate in this Cold Weather Shelter program you can contact Anna Katz, the CWS Coordinator at Grassroots at 410-531-6006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.There is a good article in the Baltimore Sun today on Rayna DuBose a former Oakland Mills basketball star. My daughter played volleyball with Rayna a few years ago. While basketball was her main sport she put everything into learning a new sport like volleyball. What I remember about her was her always present smile on the court.