Get Involved: Severe Weather Shelter Network

Volunteers from Faith Bible Chapel helped prepare Sloan’s Lake Community Church for the night’s guests

Throughout history, churches have been known for their involvement in education, medical care and caring for the oppressed. In the midst of a booming economy in the metro Denver area, churches are quietly caring for those who are homeless and needing a warm place to stay at night.

The Severe Weather Shelter Network grew out of Jefferson County’s Heading Home initiative with a desire to offer shelter to the homeless during cold nights. The idea was birthed in a Heading Home subcommittee to have faith communities open their doors as severe weather shelters. After a full year of churches opening up their spaces on cold nights, Severe Weather Shelter Network became its own organization in 2014.

One of the first churches to sign onto this effort was Sloan’s Lake Community Church just north of Sloan’s Lake. For years, Sloan’s Lake has hosted a Sunday morning breakfast for the homeless. It was at one of these breakfasts that one of the guests told them that their friend has frozen to death the night before. This motivated Sloan’s Lake Community Church to take their involvement to the next level and become a Severe Weather Shelter.

During the cold snap the week of December 5, Sloan’s Lake Community Church hosted homeless adults at their church facility. Church members from Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada prepared the building for the arriving guests and cooked up a warm meal when they arrived at 7 pm. Each guest received a bed mat, towel and blankets for their night stay. “If it wasn’t for this place we would be outside in the cold at a campsite,” explained Daryl, one of the guests. He told of their nightly routine of having to find a relatively safe place to sleep outside and worrying about what to do with their possessions. Another guest, Allison, explained, “My family won’t send me letters or pictures but these people love me.”

The Severe Weather Shelters are open when overnight temperatures are 32 degrees or colder and wet, or 20 degrees or colder and dry. Church host sites open their buildings approximately every four weeks in rotation with other host sites. Single men, women and couples (without children) are provided shelter and are prescreened to determine eligibility.

This year Severe Weather Shelter Network is partnering with the City of Lakewood to offer the Whitlock Recreation Center as a warming site before the guests are transported to the church host site. Severe Weather Shelter Executive Director Lynn Ann Huizingh explained the importance of this partnership, “The warming site provides a place for centralized pickup for the church host site and gives the guests a chance to get in out of the cold before transportation arrives. It’s an anxiety reducer for our guests and makes it easier for our host sites.”

The Severe Weather Shelter Network is always looking for more volunteers at the host sites. Volunteers can be van drivers, phone intake, overnight hosts, food preparation and a variety of other roles. More information can be found at www.swshelternetwork.com.

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