Using Your Church as a Safe House from Cold Weather for Those Experiencing Homelessness

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Winter brings chilling temperatures that, in many areas, drop to single digits for days on end. As you prepare your church to withstand the effects of this cold weather, consider also preparing your facility to act as a temporary, warm, safe house for those experiencing homelessness in your local community. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to open your church doors and provide shelter from the cold.

Equipment and Supplies

Opening your facility as a safe house from cold weather is a unique way to help your local community, especially people without access to warm shelter. To properly act as a safe house, it is important to have the right equipment, supplies and personnel available. 

If your facility will house community members overnight, make sure there are safe places to sleep. Consider using cots and blankets for overnight stays. Make sure there is access to bathroom facilities and a drinking fountain. Conduct periodic checks of the cots, facilities and drinking fountains to make sure they function properly and are ready for use.

Additionally, ensure there is an adequate stock of bathroom supplies. A few essential items to include are toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, and soap. Keep an inventory of these items so you can restock as needed. If you plan to provide food, all kitchen staff and volunteers should be trained to follow safety protocols, and ensure all food is kept at the proper temperature.2

Additionally, check with your local government office for guidelines and requirements on staff members acquiring food safety certification by the local county health department. The kitchen should also be inspected periodically and properly licensed for food preparation

Transportation

Some churches may choose to provide community members with transportation to the church. If your church decides to do this, make sure you use the right type of vehicle. For a list of vehicle options that are safe for your ministry’s use, see ARM’s resource on choosing the right vehicle for your ministry or see what alternatives to 15-passenger vans are available and safe for your ministry.

Your chosen vehicle should always be in good working condition and have regular inspections, especially after enduring severe weather. Create a schedule for regular vehicle inspections to make sure it will run appropriately on each outing and have additional inspections during seasons of extreme weather. Use ARM’s Vehicle Pre-Trip Inspection Form as a guide for these checks.

Vehicle drivers should be screened and evaluated before manning the vehicles. All volunteer drivers should:

  • Complete volunteer screening and a background check.
  • Be 21 years of age or older; if given Conference approval, driver can be 19 years of age or older.
  • Have a valid and current driver’s license rated for the type of vehicle they will drive.
  • Have an acceptable driving record during the previous three years with not more than two traffic citations and no accidents that result in a conviction of a misdemeanor or criminal charge while driving any vehicle.1

In addition, all vehicles and drivers used for this work should carry the proper insurance limits as outlined by the North American Division.

Supervision and Security

Two more important aspects of using your church as a safe house are supervision and security. The purpose of these two components is to make sure the safe house remains safe both for those inside and outside of the facilities. While the hope is that no harm will come to those in or around your facilities, it is best to be prepared. 

Volunteer security personnel or supervisors should provide both assistance and security to those inside. Consider using a check-in/check-out procedure so that in the event of an emergency or evacuation, first responders may know how many people are in the building or at risk. If your facility is open overnight, have sufficient personnel available to take shifts throughout the night and maintain consistent security and supervision while your guests rest.

Safety at the Center

Every church finds different ways of aiding its local community. Whether it is through health fairs, food distribution, special programs or creating a safe house we must remember that safety is crucial to the success of each of these instances. When we implement best safety practices and follow them consistently, we can focus on showing the love of Jesus to those around us.

Elizabeth Camps is a writer and public relations specialist for Adventist Risk Management

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