12+2=40. I’ll explain that in a moment. A coalition of churches in the suburbs has been opening their doors and letting people in. These visitors aren’t sitting in their church home Sunday morning; it’s 3am and they’re sleeping on the floor of their church home Saturday night.
Dakota County reported waiting lists of women, men, young adults and families in need of emergency shelter. With 4 beds for women in the county, zero specifically for youth age 18+, filled shelters for families in Eagan and men in Hastings, there’d been no room in the Inn. Over 12 days at Christmas, churches opened their doors. Then the doors closed. Before closing, we scraped together gas cards for those sleeping in their vehicles and Metro Transit go to cards so people could return to sleeping on buses or the light rail. Sometimes they’re driven by police to Dorothy Day Center across from the Xcel downtown St. Paul. Dorothy Day counted 170 Dakota County residents sheltered in Ramsey County last year.
Then a couple of days ago, Pastor Kristen Capel at Easter Lutheran Church said yes. Open the doors. Two more weeks. Staff Rhonda Bennett Doran and Matt Brokl went into overdrive. Easter is trying to blur the lines between church and community. Now, after 12 nights at Prince of Peace in Burnsville and Grace Lutheran and Spirit of Life in Apple Valley and 2 nights at Easter, 40 babies, teens, fast food employees and senior citizens have been offered an alternative to being alone on a sidewalk downtown St. Paul. The community is in the church.
Closing and reopening churches is hard, though. It means the message has to be spread again on the street that there’s a place to go. A further challenge of the suburbs is they are often created without bus lines to help blur the lines. The closest bus stop to this church home is almost a mile away.
The long term goal of the faith communities and citizen group known as the Dakota County Adult Shelter Coalition is to find a stable home, hopefully by 2018. www.gofundme.com/dakcountyshelter. Within 24 hours at Easter, we had every supply we needed to operate the shelter. By the 2nd night, I was preparing for the closing by asking donors for bus cards and gas cards again.
Easter believes that God is calling them to be filled with such compassion that people are drawn from impossible situations into a community of hope where lives are changed and love is real.
As one homeless youth prepared her bed, we looked up on the wall. Many would wonder how they would thrive in her impossible situation. Before going to bed, she told volunteer (and Pastor of Mount Calvary in Eagan) Jennifer Rome, “It’s nice to be around uplifting people when you don’t feel very uplifted.”
I hope when morning and Sunday school comes, those sitting and learning about compassion feel the warmth under their feet from the bed that was removed from the floor moments before they got there.