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Shelter in the Cold

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by Paige K. Slighter

You know it’s cold in Minnesota when the U.S. Postal Service suspends mail delivery due to extreme conditions. During our recent polar vortex, temperatures ranged between minus-32 and minus-56 degrees. Weather forecasters advised viewers to avoid prolonged exposure outdoors stating it would be “extremely dangerous” and “life-threatening.” Frostbite was projected to set in as quickly as five minutes if skin was unprotected. Schools and businesses closed, state workers were sent home and flights were cancelled. Most of us hibernated safely indoors working from home, tending to our families and/or binge-watching Netflix. However, a large group of people in the Twin Cities did not have this luxury—the homeless.

According to Gabrielle Clowdus, a PhD candidate at the U of M’s Housing Studies Program, there are around 1,000 chronically homeless individuals in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs. Gabrielle is deeply passionate about aiding the homeless and creating a solution to the housing problem. She works closely with Todd Feske, founder of Walking With A Purpose (WWAP), to transform the homelessness paradigm. As soon as they became aware of the severe weather conditions, they rallied together individuals and churches, including Woodland Hills, to help.

At first, a small group of volunteers prepared supplies for the homeless camps, but quickly realized this was not enough. Frostbite was already setting in, zippers were broken on tents and individuals were burning whatever they could to stay warm. After making some calls, the team raised enough support to provide hotel vouchers for the night. Gabrielle journaled, “Those who had nearly just lost their lives were jubilant after warm baths and showers, clean clothes, and homemade meals. They laughed and talked about anything but the weather, showing pictures of their children, and expressing dreams of getting off the street.”

The extreme weather began on a Tuesday and by Friday morning temperatures were well above freezing and our neighbors needed to vacate their hotel rooms. As a church, we provided transportation from the hotel back to the camps as well as much-needed supplies: several new tents, propane tanks for heaters, and warm clothing. When the request for drivers was made at The Refuge, five volunteers stepped forward. It’s in critical times like these that we learn what it means to act as the body of Christ—showing up and being willing to say, “yes.” As our neighbors settled back into their “homes” under bridges, in caves, on benches and deep in the woods, we were also reminded of the ever-present need for a long-term solution.

Woodland actively supports the chronically homeless through our partnerships with Todd and Gabrielle’s organizations. We are a home base for WWAP storage as they meet the immediate needs of the homeless by providing clothing, food and camping supplies. We also work closely with Gabrielle as she dives deeper into affordable housing options. It is her mission to inspire a “Community First” response to homelessness based off of the Mobile Loaves & Fishes tiny homes in Austin, TX. It is our shared hope to create a “demonstration settlement” of tiny homes to introduce to our community, other churches and local officials. We are grateful to be a part of this Kingdom work.

For more information about WWAP contact:

Todd Feske at walkingwithapurposemn@gmail.com or 703-371-5540.

Osheta Moore, on staff with Woodland Hills, helps facilitate our partnership with WWAP, she can be contacted at omoore@whchurch.org.

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