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 have we been involved?

First United Church was one of the founding organizations of the Interfaith Winter Shelter. Beginning in 2010, we opened our building two or three nights a week to guests experiencing homelessness. In 2017-2018, we hosted guests on Monday nights, but no longer in our church building. The shelter board voted to move all the nights to the Wheeler Mission location on West Third Street, and the move took place in November. At the end of the winter, Wheeler Mission continued to include a low-barrier shelter through the year. In 2018-19, while the IWS Board continues to meet, Wheeler Mission will operate the shelter, with its own people directing it. First United Church is no longer hosting a night, but our members aged 17 and older are welcome to take this year’s volunteer training and to volunteer.

Click here:How to Get to Wheeler Mission Bloomington for the Interfaith Emergency Winter Shelter to see excellent photo directions, first to the main building and then to the women’s building.

New information for volunteers and list of currently scheduled training sessions (from former IWS board president Dan Watts, who is training volunteers)

October has arrived, meaning among other things that November 1 and the start of the Interfaith Winter Shelter season will also soon be here.

As we have indicated before, there will be significant changes in the roles and duties of volunteers at the Shelter this season due to the expansion of staff and programs at Wheeler.  For Shelter volunteers, a major difference is that there will be only three shifts:  First shift (8:00 to 10:30 pm), Kitchen shift (approximately 7:00 to 9:15 pm) and clean-up shift (6:30 to 7:30 am).  There will also be some modification of the sign up procedure for selecting shifts when you are able to help out.

Because of these changes, the Board is suggesting that all volunteers participate in a training session this year, so that the new procedures can be explained and questions answered.  We do expect that the training sessions will be shorter this year than in the past.

At the moment, the following training sessions have been scheduled.  We expect that more will be set up, particularly some at various other faith communities.  When we know more about them, we will let you know.

Volunteer Training Schedule as of October 9, 2018

October 3, 2018 at 8:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church (Wednesday)

October 4, 2018 at 7:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church (Thursday)

October 6, 2018 at 10:00 am at First Presbyterian Church (Saturday)

October 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church (Tuesday)

October 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church (Thursday)

October 13, 2018 at 10:00 am at First Presbyterian Church (Saturday)

October 14, 2018 at 2:00 pm at First United Church (Sunday)

October 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm at Global and International Studies Building Room 1100 on IU Campus


October 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm at St. Paul’s Catholic Center (Tuesday)

October 17, 2018 at 7:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church (Wednesday)

For the sessions at First Presbyterian Church, please enter the building through the double glass doors from the parking lot on the corner of Lincoln and Seventh.  It is all right, as well, to park in the fenced in lot that is adjacent to the parking area immediately behind the church.

If you have any questions, or suggestions, please let me know.


Dan Watts