Home Christian News Churches Sheltering Unhoused Individuals Amid Freezing Temperatures Face Financial, Legal Challenges

Churches Sheltering Unhoused Individuals Amid Freezing Temperatures Face Financial, Legal Challenges

unhoused shelter
Photo by Plato Terentev (via Pexels)

As winter temperatures drop below freezing, churches around the nation are opening their facilities as places of shelter for unhoused individuals in their communities. Providing this service can be lifesaving, but it is also costly. 

In Colorado, Denver Friends Church opened its gymnasium to unhoused migrants on Jan. 10, incurring a nightly cost of $500 to feed and house 29 mostly Venezuelan migrants who would have otherwise been sleeping in the snow.

While Denver Friends Church has received support from the city, which has provided cots and blankets, Pastor Keith Reeser has led the charge in gathering the funds and volunteers necessary to make the shelter possible. 

“We are delighted at the fact that we can serve this community in a way like this because I know this community is struggling and this is a humanitarian crisis,” Reeser told a local NBC affiliate.

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In other cities, other churches are likewise faced with high daily costs to operate emergency shelters. In the case of First Baptist Church in Edwardsville, Illinois, those costs are coming in the form of a daily fine of $750 for what city officials say is a zoning violation.

First Baptist has been opening its sanctuary to members of the community who are either unhoused or who live in housing without heat as part of a collaboration with the nonprofit Overnight Warming Locations (OWL).

“Being out in cold weather is really dangerous,” said Michelle Babb of the Glen-Ed Ministerial Alliance. “They need to stay here. They are rooted here. They are our neighbors even though they don’t have addresses, so we need to provide shelter for them.”

Nevertheless, the city of Edwardsville says that First Baptist needs a special permit to operate its shelter, something the church contests. 

“The church has had a special permit since 1969 that allows them—all churches have one—to perform ministry work,” said a representative for OWL. “The activities with OWL are ministry work and fall under this special permit use. Why the city believes it doesn’t is a mystery.”

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Sabrina Trupia, who volunteers at the shelter, said, “This is an issue of life and death to me.”