Churches to open shelter

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Monday, December 17, 2007
— There will be room at the inn this Christmas.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 24, St. John Vianney Parish will open its doors to single, homeless men. The church will host the first week of a shelter that will rotate through churches in Rock County.

Bethel Baptist, 3300 Mt. Zion Ave., Janesville, Roxbury Road Church of Christ, 2103 Roxbury Road, Janesville, and Asbury United Methodist Church, 1810 Kellogg Ave., Janesville, have agreed to host the shelter for a week. Organizers expect eight churches to be signed up by the end of the week.

The GIFTS Task force, a group of “dedicated Christians” who wanted to identify and fill a need in Rock County, founded the project said Paul Benish, a member of the task force.

They immediately saw a gap in shelter for single, homeless men, Benish said.

“It honestly was divinely inspired,” Benish said. “We looked around at what was being done and saw that single men are probably the hardest to serve. It’s harder to get that emotional heartstring tug you get with homeless women and children.”

The House of Mercy, 320 Lincoln St., Janesville, shelters men with families or single adult women. The Salvation Army or ECHO provides shelter to single men through hotel vouchers.

“It certainly is a need in the community,” House of Mercy Director Ron Del Ciello said. “Right now single, homeless men are being taken care of through motel vouchers, but they get very expensive. And we’re full with a waiting list for families and adult single women.”

Things have moved quickly since the task force first met in early November.

Dec. 6, the task force hosted a luncheon, which was attended by representatives of 22 local churches.

St. John Vianney parishioners first heard about the project at Saturday night Mass, said church spokesman Matt Prestil. With 1,300 member families, the church is in a great position to host the shelter, Prestil said.

By Sunday night, 110 members had signed up to help, he said.

“Personally, two people expressed concerns to me, but 99 percent were unbelievably grateful that we were willing to do something,” Prestil said. “It was incredible, the response after Mass.”

Prestil said he appreciated the concerns, too.

“I appreciate people being honest rather than saying, ‘Father said it’s good. Let’s just do it.’ It’s hard to step up and go against the trend when everybody’s so excited.”

The shelter is a very simple concept, Benish said. It requires a one-week commitment from a church, which will provide shelter from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Volunteers will provide dinner and breakfast, a shower and a sack lunch.

At the end of the week, the 20 donated beds and bedding will be moved to the next church.

The system is similar to one hosted by eight churches in Walworth County. Organizers from that shelter will help train volunteers, Prestil said.

It’s not a coincidence the shelter will open Christmas Eve.

“That was something that we really strived to make happen,” Benish said. “It was almost a miracle that it happened so fast, but we wanted this organization to be born on the same day as our Lord.”

Prestil hopes success at St. John will make other churches confident to participate.

“If it goes well the first couple times around, it will get churches more excited,” Prestil said. “It’s not just a Christmas week event. We want it to go through April.”

More information

Churches in Rock County will open a shelter for single, homeless men on Monday, Dec. 24. St. John Vianney Parish will host the shelter the first week until it moves to another church.

To help:

-- St. John Vianney parishioners may call Matt Prestil at (608) 289-7231 or e-mail mjrprestil@charter.net.
-- Members of other churches or the public may call Paul Benish at (608) 755-4211 or e-mail paulbenish@yahoo.com.

Specific volunteer needs:

-- Site maintenance—Help set up and keep the facilities clean. Help with laundry.

-- Guest intake and orientation—Help with background checks, give tours and help men get settled.

-- Overnight supervision—Provide supervision and timing for lights out and wake up.

-- Meal preparation and service—Make food on site or bring it from home. Help serve and clean up.

Last updated: 10:53 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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