GIFTS men's shelter opens for the season

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Monday, October 10, 2011
— He didn't want to give his name so as not to embarrass relatives. He knows he's got a problem with drinking.

He said he hopes that time in a shelter, where he isn't allowed to drink, will help him.

He was one of five men who showed up in the first hour at Janesville's GIFTS shelter for homeless men on Sunday.

The shelter, which moves from church to church each week throughout the cold months, opened its doors for the season Sunday at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, 2130 Mount Zion Ave.

The guests' ages ranged from 44 to 77.

"They'll get younger" as the season progresses, said Rita Lynes, an experienced shelter worker who has seen them as young as 18—the shelter doesn't take any younger.

The man who wanted to stay anonymous said he supports himself with odd jobs—he's an experienced carpenter—and usually can afford a night in a motel and sometimes sleeps on friends' couches.

But he needs a "lifestyle change," he said, and maybe the shelter, which he has used for two years, can help him instill some discipline in himself.

"The place is not as bad as I thought, and after a while I got more used to it," he said. "The place has been gracious and kind and acting out of Christian charity and love, and you respond to that," he said.

Another man, who arrived pushing a shopping cart with possessions inside, has children who would take him in, Lynes said, but he prefers to be on his own.

The shelter began in 2007. Its first full season was in 2008-09. Last year, it ran for 29 weeks and served 108 men, averaging about 22 per night. The shelter is set up for a maximum of 25, but some of the member churches can accommodate more.

GIFTS stands for God Is Faithful Temporary Shelter. Men check in between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., when the doors are locked, and the men must remain inside till morning. The men are required to set up their cots and make their beds.

Shelter workers register the men, prepare a meal, chaperone overnight, clean up afterward and offer companionship. The volunteers far outnumbered the guests Sunday.

GIFTS Vice President Paul Benish said the numbers would increase as the cold sets in, reaching maximum capacity in January and February.

"What we've seen is a slow increase in the need for the love and caring that is provided by GIFTS," Benish said.

Benish said the shelter recently has seen more men who have become homeless for the first time in their lives.

"These are men who have always had a job, who have always been able to pay the rent. Now, because of the economy and because they are without income, they suddenly can't pay the rent and find themselves without a place to live," Benish said. "They can be afraid and unsure of where to turn, or what to do. Their life is in turmoil."

The shelter offers a safe, warm, sober place to sleep and a hot meal. Grilled cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup were on Sunday's menu. The men and volunteers ate on long tables with tablecloths and fresh-cut flowers

Benish said GIFTS also has its "A Team," which helps the men get their lives back on track, finding them transportation, the use of a phone—whatever they need to apply for a job.

"This safety net can be the difference between making this a temporary setback, or a long downward spiral," Benish said.

The season will run through April 25, 2012.

Last updated: 6:46 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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