VALPARAISO | Leaders of overnight shelter programs for homeless single men and women are hoping to enlist the aid of more volunteers, churches and other organizations.
"Our biggest need is for new volunteers. We're concerned we don't burn out the volunteers we have," said Mario Bustos, pastor of the Valparaiso Mennonite Church and coordinator of the Valparaiso Men’s Overnight Shelter program.
Bustos has led a Valparaiso Christian Ministerial Association coalition of local churches that have provided overnight shelter for men since 2008.
Seven churches offer shelter on a rotating basis to an average of 20 men per night between Oct. 15 and April 15. Another seven churches offer shelter the rest of the year. The program is operated by more than 100 residents who volunteer to take shifts during the night, cook and serve dinner and breakfast and donate supplies such as toiletries and bedding.
"They give up sleep, and they go to work tired," Bustos said of the volunteers.
Men who use the overnight shelters are required to attend the New Creation men’s day center, which provides case management and services to help men get out of homelessness.
In 2011, a similar overnight shelter program was developed for single homeless women. The Open Arms Women's Shelter operates Oct. 15 through April 15 at six churches and the Reiner Community Center.
In its first year, it served 25 women, said Rich Schmidt, pastor of Living Hope Community Church and Open Arms coordinator.
The program would like to expand to cover the entire the year, Schmidt said, but it will require involving more volunteers, churches and organizations.
Like the men, women who use the Open Arms shelters must participate in programming offered by a day center. The Dayspring Women's Center opened its doors earlier this month in Valparaiso and is expected to serve an estimated 20 to 25 women by the end of the year. The goal is to help women become self-sustaining.
"Our volunteers are very excited Dayspring is open because they don't want to enable people to stay homeless," Schmidt said. “Dayspring will help women move out of homelessness.”
The overnight shelter programs initially met with some skepticism that Valparaiso even had a homeless problem, Bustos said.
"Valparaiso has a nice image and homelessness does not fit that image," he said.
"But it's a reality in every community," Schmidt said.