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 2017-2018,we are hosting 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, but the move depended on city approval and also on some modifications to the building, including a sprinkler system. That takes time, but the shelter negotiated with the city, and with some extra fire safety precautions in place, we’re expecting to be at Wheeler for our first Monday night, November 6. We’ll continue to update and train volunteers for the 2017-18 season, so that they will be able to sign themselves up for shifts at the shelter on Signup.com.

How can I help?

The shelter needs volunteers from November through March, and a training session is required. We need about thirty volunteers each evening we’re 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 church announcements and this website for information about upcoming training events.(At the moment, the IWS website is not fully caught up to the new changes.)

Information for 2017-2018 Volunteers

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

Volunteer training is scheduled for:

 

We have no scheduled trainings at this time. Please continue to check back or contact Dan Watts at wattbush@gmail.com or 732-939-9426.

If you would like to attend a training session, but none of these is convenient for you, or, if you represent a group of people who would like to be trained, a time and place that would work for you can likely be arranged. Please contact Dan Watts at wattbush@gmail.com or 732-939-9426.

All IWS training sessions are open to everyone, any one of them will qualify you to volunteer any night, and only trained adult volunteers can sign up to help when our homeless guests are present.

Additional Training Sessions will be scheduled in the near future. If there are any questions, please call Dan Watts (732-939-9426).

If you can’t make a time, ask our volunteer coordinator, Sara Frommer firstucshelter@gmail.com, or Dan Watts wattbush@gmail.com, about working out individualized training.

Once trained, volunteers can sign the 2017-18 volunteer covenant, and get started signing up for shifts. Sign up is done via Signup.com, an online signup service. Volunteers must be 18 to work when homeless shelter guests are present, but the setup 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 Signup.com with other trained volunteers. If you are interested in donating desserts such as homebaked cookies or brownies on Monday nights, please contact our food coordinator, Hopi Stosberg hopi@stosberg.com, who schedules those donations.

Volunteers, to read the 2016-17 volunteer manual and reference guide, please click here. It will give you the policies of the shelter and useful suggestions, but the specific information about location and phone number will not be current. Printed copies of the new guide will be available soon at the shelter.