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 2013-2014, we are hosting guests on Monday and Tuesday nights.

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 2013-2014 Volunteers

New volunteers need to attend an IWS training session, for which no registration is required. These short sessions will prepare shelter volunteers to work three-hour shifts at any shelter site. If you are unable to attend, ask our volunteer coordinator, Sharon McCann, firstucshelter@gmail.com, 812-272-2630, about individualized training options or how to update your volunteer covenant from a previous year.

The next training scheduled will be February 24, 6:30p.m., in Wilkie Lounge, 150 N. Rose.

Once trained, volunteers can sign the 2013 volunteer covenant, and get started signing up for shifts at any of the church sites. Sign up is done via Volunteer Spot, an online sign up 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, Sharon McCann.

Another way to volunteer is to help prepare and serve substantial soup to feed our guests. This year the food servers will sign up on Volunteer Spot 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.

To review the 2013-14 volunteer manual and reference guide, please click here.  Printed copies are available to new volunteers.