The phone calls are often frantic: “I have no place to sleep tonight.” “I have been evicted from my apartment, can you help me?” “My car broke down on my way to Ohio. I need a place to sleep tonight and I have no money.” “I had a fight with my girlfriend and she kicked me out.” How do we help our neighbors who need a safe place to sleep when it is cold outside?
We are blessed in Centre County to have numerous human service agency programs to care for the people in our country. One program is unique, Out of the Cold: Centre County. Out of the Cold is a collaborate effort of 14 congregations to provide a place for our homeless neighbors to sleep. The Mission of Out of the Cold is to provide the homeless in our Centre County community with a warm and safe overnight accommodation and nourishment within a welcoming atmosphere, as a supplemental option to locally established shelters.
This program opens in mid-October and closes at the end of April. The host site moves location every two weeks to congregations in Boalsburg, State College and Port Matilda. Each night the guests are given a cot to sleep on, several blankets to keep warm and a hot meal. Each morning the guests have breakfast before leaving the host site, often to go to work or to Hearts for Homeless in downtown State College. When the host site is not located in downtown State College, the program provides guests with either bus tokens or a taxi ride to and from the site.
Out of the Cold guests must be at least 18 years old. Men and women have separate sleeping areas in the host site. Residents of Centre County who find themselves in immediate need for temporary overnight shelter are invited to register for this program. Persons from outside Centre County who find themselves in immediate need for temporary overnight shelter are limited to a 30 day stay. Extensions will be given to guests actively seeking permanent residency within Centre County and working with an agency or case worker to obtain housing.
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It takes a lot of volunteers to run this program. Each congregation has a site coordinator who sits on the Board of Directors that runs the program. Each night there is host coordinator who welcomes and signs in guests. There are a minimum of two overnight volunteers every night. The ratio is one volunteer for every five guests, with a maximum of 20 guests allowed each night. Every volunteer must attend a 1 1/2 hour training session. There is a site manager and an assistant site manager who work with our volunteers and guests.
The Out of the Cold Board of Directors is looking for more congregations to serve as a host site which will allow us to continue to serve our homeless neighbors for a longer period each year. We are also looking for financial donations to cover our expenses which include salaries for the site managers, bus tokes, taxi rides for guests and needed supplies. Our email address is email@example.com.
The Rev. Monica Ouellette is pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Boalsburg.