What is the Interfaith Winter Shelter?

The Interfaith Winter Shelter (IWS) began in the late spring of 2009 when clergy and lay leaders from many faith communities came together to consider ways to respond to concerns for the health, safety, and well-being of men and women who are homeless in the Bloomington area.  The project quickly snowballed and today involves more than twenty faith communities, more than 450 volunteers, and a number of public, private, and governmental entities working together to provide emergency winter shelter to Monroe County’s homeless individuals.

IWS models its program after PADS, a similar program in Chicago that has been in operation for over twenty years.  In this multi-site model, several different faith communities host the shelter for one or two nights per week on a rotating basis, using volunteers, financial resources, and in-kind donations from each hosting site and the community at large.

The IWS operates as a low-barrier shelter during the winter months.  It was designed to offer a safe, warm place to sleep for men and women who – for whatever reason – have no other alternative but the streets.

How are we involved?

First United Church was one of the founding organizations of the Interfaith Winter Shelter, and we continue our active involvement today. Since 2010, we have opened our building two or three nights a week to guests experiencing homelessness. In 2014-2015, we are hosting guests on Monday nights. Other congregations will host the shelter at First United on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On the third Saturday of each month, the shelter will have site directors from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and volunteer and food coordinators from First United.

How can I help?

The IWS needs volunteers from November through March, and a training session is required. We need about thirty volunteers each evening we are open.  There are shifts and tasks that allow for limited contact with our guests, and there are shifts and tasks that require  considerable contact with the guests. Please watch the church announcements and the IWS website for information about upcoming training events.

Information for 2014-2015 Volunteers

New and returning volunteers should attend a training session. These short sessions will prepare shelter volunteers to work three-hour shifts between 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. from November through March, the shelter’s schedule this year.

The following session will qualify you to volunteer at any site, and there will almost certainly be volunteer training available later as well.

Monday, January 26, 2015 at 7:00 PM in the Great Hall at First Christian Church.  This one-hour training is designed for folks who’ve already worked at the winter shelter but have not yet had the opportunity to be trained, and folks who have not yet volunteered but are interested in learning more about winter shelter volunteer opportunities.  First Christian Church is located at 205 E. Kirkwood (N.E. corner of Kirkwood and Washington).  Please enter through the Washington Ave. door.  The Great Hall is up one flight of stairs on the 2nd floor.

If you are unable to make a session, talk to our volunteer coordinator, Sara Frommer,  firstucshelter@gmail.com  or the Shelter Board President, Dan Watts wattbush@gmail.com about individualized training options.

Once trained, volunteers can sign the 2014-15 volunteer covenant, and get started signing up for shifts at any of the church sites. Sign up is done via VolunteerSpot, an online sign up service. Volunteers must be 18 to work when homeless shelter guests are present, but the set up shift can bring children and young teens, who don’t sign up, even though they can make a real contribution. If you will turn 18 during the shelter season, it’s fine to take the training now. If you have questions about volunteering, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Sara Frommer firstucshelter@gmail.com.

Another way to volunteer is to help serve substantial soup to feed our guests. This year the food servers will sign up on VolunteerSpot with other trained volunteers. If you are interested in baking cookies or brownies, please contact our food coordinator, Diana Lehner, dlehner@gmail.com, who schedules those donations.

Volunteers, if you would like to review the volunteer manual and reference guide, please click here.   Printed copies will be available at the shelter sites.