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Winter Shelter - Serving the Homeless, Revitalising the Church

Fr Tony Kerin, Episcopal Vicar, Life Marriage and Family and Parish Priest, Catholic Parish of Greater Box Hill reminded us that Matthew’s Gospel urges us to act in favour of the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and the homeless who represent Christ in our daily lives “as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:41). Fr Tony says not only do we need to come to the aid of rough sleepers but in doing so, to minister to Him. 
Kerryn Pell from Stable One described how the organisation has been providing winter shelter services to rough sleepers each year since 2017. The service is an ecumenical initiative, involving a number of churches in a locality entering into partnership to provide rostered meals and accommodation, with volunteers providing hospitality services for those who would otherwise have nowhere safe and warm to sleep. In 2019 six groups across Melbourne and regional Victoria provided shelter, with seven groups expected in 2020. Stable One has a comprehensive Tool Kit to guide newcomers to providing winter shelter in their area. Stable One and Maroondah Winter Shelter (see below) will assist new groups setting up their own service.

A number of Catholic churches already contribute to providing winter shelter in their areas, in conjunction with churches of other denominations. Holy Spirit Parish in North Ringwood, part of the Maroondah Winter Shelter project which operates in similar fashion to Stable One, and St Patrick’s Lilydale of Stable One both provided shelter in 2019. Greater Box Hill Parish will commence support in partnership with six other churches in the Whitehorse area in 2020.

Each winter shelter project entails a wide range of hospitality support services being provided by volunteers, ranging from provision of meals and food, living materials, clothing, conversation, setting up bedding helping with Centrelink, etc. More than 200 volunteers may be needed to support each winter shelter project.

At the Parish Forum, parishioners from Holy Spirit Parish in North Ringwood and St Patrick’s Lilydale told how supporting rough sleepers had transformed and revitalised their parishes, with benefits including sure confirmation that it is the rightful role of the Church and parishioners to feed, clothe and converse with those in need, to challenge preconceived ideas about rough sleepers, find that homeless people are no different from the rest of us, make new friendships, see people regain self-respect and independence and in some cases re-enter the housing market.

The Holy Spirit Parish has adopted the “Divine Renovation” missional approach and is moving from “maintenance to mission”. Winter shelter helps link the parish to the school community, leading to greater crossover between the parish and the school students, staff and parents. Sixty volunteers from Holy Spirit Parish supported the Maroondah Winter Shelter in 2019.

Added to the revitalisation of local parish life, winter shelter provides further benefits through helping make new connections and friendships with neighbouring parishes and multi denominational churches, as well as a larger vision and experience of Church.  If you and your parish are thinking of taking part in winter shelter, here are some steps to consider:

• Find out what is happening in your area. Speak to your parish leaders, contact Stable One Mob 0466 565 866 or email info@stableone.org or Maroondah Winter Shelter, speak with neighbouring church groups
• Discuss with your friends and others who you think may be interested. Form a group to help progress your ideas
• Discuss with your parish leadership team and seek their support. Keep them informed as your proposal develops.
• Invite guest speakers to your parish to promote winter shelter, inform parishioners and gain wider buy-in
• Know where to get help (Stable One, Maroondah Winter Shelter, Holy Spirit and St Patrick’s parishes will be happy to provide assistance)
• Develop your proposal carefully and in detail. While the Stable One Tool Kit or Maroondah Winter Shelter will provide much guidance, you will need to consider its application for your situation.

Winter shelter is an idea whose time has come. As one participant said, “while winter shelter will not solve the housing crisis, it is more than a band-aid solution: it’s a bridge to help people overcome the shock of homelessness and come to terms with their situation, giving them time and presence of mind to navigate their own housing futures”.   Contact Peter Hudson peter.hudson@css.org.au  for more information





 
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