A homeless person holds a kitten while sitting inside a cold weather shelter
A homeless couple and their two cats find warmth at the Connecting Grounds Church on a cold winter night in 2021. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

Overview:

Springfield's Crisis Cold Weather Shelter program is hosting an open house Sept. 8 to recruit more volunteers.

Last winter, Springfield’s Crisis Cold Weather Shelter program provided a warm and safe overnight shelter to an average of 168 people on nights when temperatures dipped below freezing.

The cold weather shelters are hosted inside different churches throughout Springfield and are dependent on volunteers who also spend the night. 

“The crisis cold weather shelter does save lives every year by just allowing people to come in on those very cold nights,” said Michelle Garand, with Community Partnership of the Ozarks. “Most people that come in are exhausted. They just want to go to sleep and rest. So (volunteering) is a very beautiful way to serve a high need in our community.”

But the program desperately needs more volunteers.

“Our volunteer pool was exhausted last year,” Garand said. “We served 62 nights last winter season, so that is quite a bit.”

Open house will be at Unity of Springfield

In an effort to recruit more volunteers, the Crisis Cold Weather Shelter committee is hosting an open house 4-7 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Unity of Springfield church at 2214 E. Seminole. 

The committee is made up of the shelter site coordinators and representatives from the City of Springfield and the Springfield Fire Department.

In addition to recruiting volunteers, the goal of the open house is to share the many ways organizations and individuals can support the crisis cold weather shelter program. 

A variety of stations will be set up at the open house and hosted by current volunteers, representatives from different shelter sites, community partners and those with lived experience who have stayed at the shelters in the past. 

“We want volunteers to know just how easy it is to serve and to be able to provide that warm and welcoming space for that night’s safe sleep,” Garand said. “The open house is to really provide information to volunteers and other potential sites about what goes on at our crisis cold weather shelters, the need for volunteers and what a night in the life of a crisis shelter looks like.

“Everyone who volunteers is on a team. No one is ever alone for that overnight stent. We do training and education,” she said. “The coordinators are in constant contact with the volunteers each night and the next morning just to make sure that everything went smoothly.”

Some shelters welcome couples, pets

The different churches and faith communities that host the shelter sites will provide information about what populations they serve, Garand said. Some serve just men or just women. Others are open to couples and people with pets.

In addition to needing volunteers, the committee is also hoping other faith communities or organizations will become shelter sites — even for just for a month in January or February. 

The cold weather shelter season is typically October through the start of March. Last year, the program really peaked in January and February, Garand said. The shelters only open on nights when the National Weather Service predicts the temperature to hit 32 degrees or colder.

“We were open every night in January,” she said, “so being able to spread out is really important. Especially with COVID, we really do try to maintain lower numbers per shelter so that we can have that distance.”

Other ways to support the crisis cold weather shelter program include donating Hot Hands, gloves, snacks and bus passes. 

What’s it like to volunteer at a shelter?

Representatives from the different shelter sites will be at the open house and can talk about any variances their shelter might have. But in general, this is how the shelters operate:

Volunteers arrive at the shelters in the evenings to welcome people into the building. There’s always some sort of snacks — sandwiches, soup, hot tea — for guests. 

Guests are provided with blankets and either a cot or a yoga mat to sleep on. The next morning, they are provided with a microwavable breakfast, coffee and a bus pass. 

The shelters open at 8 p.m. and it’s “lights out and quiet time” at 10 p.m. Guests get up at 6 a.m. and must be out the door and off the property at 7 a.m. They also are expected to clean up after themselves, so volunteers don’t have to worry about cleaning. 

Volunteers take turns in sleeping in four-hour shifts in a different room.

A full list of “ways to help” will be provided at the open house. Find more information on Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ website

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald