Shelter offers GIFTS to homeless men and community in its first season
But that didn’t upset organizers. It meant homeless men were starting to get their lives back on track.
“As we prepared to terminate the program, a lot of them took the initiative and took the help we offered to find jobs, find apartments, to find alternative living arrangements,” said Paul Benish, treasurer of the GIFTS board of directors.
The traveling shelter completed its first season a few weeks ago after serving more than 70 homeless, single men at 10 churches.
GIFTS is an acronym that stands for God Is Faithful Temporary Shelter. A taskforce opened the shelter on Christmas Eve because it saw a need for a men’s shelter in the community.
That need was confirmed as the volunteers saw an average of 15 men enter the shelter each night. They had been expecting five or six, Benish said.
“What we found is single, homeless men really are hidden in this community,” he said.
GIFTS offered more than a shelter to the men. It offered an address and temporary cell phones to residents so they could apply for jobs. Volunteers helped men find employment and stable homes.
Benish recalled one father and son who came to the shelter after the father lost his job while going through a divorce.
After two months of searching, the father found a job. The 20-year-old son looked, too, but could find only third-shift jobs. Because the shelter was open only at night, a third-shift job would have left him with nowhere to sleep.
But the family was able to save money from the father’s job. One month later, they moved into an apartment, allowing the son to take a third-shift job.
“It was a tremendous success story, and it really speaks to what we want to offer, which is temporary stability to allow (homeless men) to get back on their feet,” Benish said.
The shelter also offered Janesville residents an opportunity to serve the less fortunate. More than 1,000 people participated in the shelter’s opening season, Benish said.
“We’ve found that people in Janesville want to help, and they need to help,” he said. “They have an internal need to help people, but what they needed was a real easy way to do that.”
The shelter stopped operations for the summer to keep participating churches from getting burned out, Benish said.
But the board of directors already has plans for next year. It plans to reopen the shelter Sept. 21 and run through April. It already has commitments from 15 churches to play host, one-third more than played host this year.
Benish sees the shelter drawing the Janesville religious community together.
“The walls between the different congregations came tumbling down,” he said. “It really didn’t matter if it said Catholic or Lutheran or Methodist or Baptist …
“People came together.”