Here in Parker, Colorado, homelessness is not apparent. The population of people swept out into the streets is minimal compared to larger cities; however, Parker is emerging. It has seen growth in numbers from 23,000 residents in 2000 to 46,000 in 2013. This indicates an expansion of everything, such as, hospitals, schools, companies, and subdivisions. The growth of Parker also creates an expectation for an influx of people. Along with the increase of residents, homelessness increases as well and the town needs a way to help those people. The Winter Shelter Network, as hosted by several churches across the town attempts to limit large numbers of homelessness in Parker. There are seven churches in the Parker area that have a designated night when they open their doors and provide services to those without homes. Each church is composed of several teams that provide meals, blankets, and job opportunities. Each church has a care coordinator that is aware of what is going on in the area and has connections with other locals in the town. Guests arrive from 5 to 8 p.m. and sign up to stay overnight. If the guest needs transportation, the churches have made a deal with Lyft to help them arrive to their destination, and for those that have cars, gas cards are given out. Multiple people stay at the church overnight and keep it safe. These churches cover a variety of basic needs. The program was in the making for two years and initially inspired by a system similar to one in Atlanta. It expanded to other churches in the Parker area, creating a network of help. These churches are not like conventional homeless shelters, they are a place of worship on sundays and saturdays, but the typical residents conjured up when the word homeless is mentioned are not the ones that attend these churches. “Some guests travel and some are working as CNAs,” says Volunteer Coordinator Melissa Miller. The Winter Shelter Network is an unconventional homeless shelter. The churches really utilize what they have to offer and open up what they have to others. The environment is atypical as well, “It’s just like having a guest in your home,” says Miller. As the weather is starting to turn and the holidays draw nearer, Winter Shelter Network will be more crucial to those who need to find a warm bed and a hot meal. The program is an amazing option for nights of crises, nights where there is no other option. It is also a symbol of hospitality and giving. “There is so much connection made between the volunteers and the participants. It makes the community smaller,” says Miller. The service is beginning a new chapter in the community and expects to make a greater impact next year. Churches are considering offering their space during the day. The growth of the program will aim to imitate the town of Parker, expanding what it has to offer to all residents.
Story by Jaci Stickrod