Parking lot at the Venues in Springfield, Missouri
The Venues recently partnered with Connecting Grounds to create the Safe Parking Lot program for families living in their vehicles. Families must register at the Connecting Grounds. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

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If you lived in your car, would you know where to go as darkness falls?

With winter approaching, advocates and organizations that serve the unsheltered are looking for creative ways to help people living without permanent housing.

The Venues church recently partnered with the Connecting Grounds Outreach Center to create the Safe Parking Lot program.

This program allows families who are living in their vehicles — and there are plenty of them in Springfield — a safe, well-lit place to park overnight.

Connecting Grounds Pastor Christie Love said about 10 families have used this program so far, and she anticipates that number will increase as word of the safe lot spreads. 

Families must come to the Connecting Grounds Outreach Center at 3000 W. Chestnut Expressway to register. They are given a placard to display on their vehicle that shows they have permission to park there.

Connecting Grounds Pastor Christie Love took this photo recently of a person who is living in his vehicle in Springfield. (Photo submitted by Christie Love)

They are allowed to be on the church’s parking lot from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

Families must renew the placard every two weeks. That way, they are staying in touch with advocates and service providers. 

Love said the Missouri Children’s Division and staff with Springfield Public Schools’ homeless services are aware of the safe parking lot program and sometimes make referrals to the program. 

Love hopes a few more places of worship will join the program and give permission to use their parking lots overnight. Faith groups do not have to provide any staff or volunteers to be part of the program. 

“It’s just permission,” Love said when asked what an organization would have to provide.

“We’d love to have a few different locations,” Love said. “It’ll just make it a lot easier this winter to check on families — especially with kiddos — rather than trying to track everybody down to have them in a centralized spot.”

Shelter program needs pet-friendly space

Springfield’s Crisis Cold Weather Shelter program is a network of shelter sites that open on nights when the forecast calls for overnight temperatures to drop to 32 degrees or colder. The shelters are primarily housed in places of worship throughout Springfield and are staffed by volunteers who take turns working and sleeping.

The shelter program, which is facilitated by Community Partnership of the Ozarks, lost one of its site locations this year — Asbury United Methodist Church, which had capacity for up to 35 men and women and allowed pets. 

Emily Fessler, with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, explained that the Asbury shelter was a cooperative shelter, meaning four faith groups partnered to staff and fund the shelter.

A homeless couple and their two cats find warmth at a crisis cold weather shelter in 2021. The Crisis Cold Weather Shelter program needs a shelter site that will allow for pets this winter. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

“They still have all the shelter coordinators, all the volunteers and all the funds they raised to do shelter,” Fessler said. “So really a physical location is the need.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a church space. It can be any type of location,” she added. “But traditionally we find churches are the ones willing to open their doors to do that.”

If your organization is interested in learning what is involved in becoming a shelter site, email Fessler at

Volunteers needed for shelter program

The need for volunteers to staff the shelter sites is critical, Fessler said. 

“I think sometimes there’s a misconception that if you volunteer, you must be there overnight,” she said. “But the reality is that each shelter has all different types of positions that aren’t overnight.

“Even if volunteers are willing to do early evening or early morning, then that takes some of the stress off volunteers who can then be willing to do overnight,” Fessler said. “The burnout is real, especially when you hit that midpoint of the season when you have a core group of five or six volunteers that have been doing overnights over and over.”

Even if a person signs up for just one or two nights a month, Fessler said that lessens the burden for the other volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities for the CCWS program include providing meals, helping with transportation, laundry, as well as the overnight volunteers who take turns sleeping.

If you are interested in volunteering with the CCWS program, reach out to Fessler or fill out a volunteer application here.

Virtual ‘Lunch & Learn’ for faith leaders is Friday

The Connecting Grounds Church is hosting a virtual ‘Lunch and Learn’ for faith leaders at noon Friday. 

The Facebook event page describes the event as a virtual conversation to learn about the wide variety of ways that communities of faith can help to meet the many needs of our unsheltered neighbors this coming winter.

“At the core of all faiths is the message to love our neighbors and help care for those in need. We invite you to learn more about the level of need and the specific ways that you can help love out loud in our backyard this winter,” Pastor Love wrote on the page. 

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers public safety, the courts, homelessness, domestic violence and other social issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald