Warming shelter plan solidified; Spruce St. UMC to open its doors

MORGANTOWN – The Emergency Food and Shelter Committee recently developed a Warming Shelter Plan for homeless individuals and families in Monongalia County for the winter of 2019-2020, including making Spruce Street United Methodist Church a warming shelter on cold nights.

The county received $49,955 from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which is managed by United Way Worldwide. An additional $10,000 was provided by the Monongalia County Commission to go toward the warming shelter at Spruce Street UMC.

“When we work to see each person in our community as a neighbor, then it becomes less ‘us and them’ and more ‘we,’” said the Rev. Neil Leftwich, of Spruce Street United Methodist Church. “Compassion is a defining practice of our life together. This is a wonderful community, and none of us want to see any of our neighbors freezing to death.”

The United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties manages the National Emergency Food and Shelter Program. Each year, Mon County is awarded funds to help the community provide food and shelter to those in need. The Emergency Food and Shelter Committee is made up of 15 community members and organizations, and with the Mon County Commission’s help, the committee decided that mass shelter for the homeless was the main priority, especially on nights when the temperatures drop below 34 degrees.

Bartlett Housing Solutions will receive $31,500 for 90 days of overnight shelter for 28 people. The rest of the $49,955 was dispersed as follows: $11,875 to Milan Puskar Health Right for the warming shelter at the church, $4,581 to Catholic Charities for a food pantry, $1,000 to Covenant Evangelical Methodist Church for its food pantry, and $999 to the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties for an administrative fee. The $10,000 from the commission will go toward Health Right’s management of the church’s warming shelter.

“The county commission was very supportive when I requested help with funding for the Warming Shelter,” said Janette Lewis, community impact director at the United Way.

“They committed $10,000 to help with staffing, background checks, utility bills and supplies needed for the shelter. We are grateful for their support and their understanding of the need for the warming shelter to keep people from suffering from frost bite or from freezing to death in the cold. We are also very grateful for Rev. Neil Leftwich and the congregation at Spruce Street UMC for opening up their doors and being part of the solution to keep those in need safe and warm this winter.”

The Emergency Food and Shelter Board approved the dispersion of funds during a recent meeting. Board members Lewis; Leftwich; Colleen Lankford, Christian Help executive director; Laura Jones, director of Milan Puskar Health Right; and Millie Karlin, with the Tree of Life Congregation; were instrumental in securing the funding and putting the plan into place.

Bartlett Housing Solutions Emergency Shelter is open from 8 p.m.-8 a.m. every day and can house up to 28 people each night, regardless of the weather and/or temperature. On nights when temperatures fall to 34 degrees or below, those who are unable to get into Bartlett’s shelter will receive a ticket for Spruce Street United Methodist Church, where staff will meet them between 8-9 p.m. and provide overnight shelter. For those who need to get in out of the cold during the day, The Friendship Room opens at 7:30 a.m. Homeless families, women and children will be identified quickly with a referral system in place to get them immediate housing assistance. 

All volunteers and employees hired to supervise the warming shelters will be required to have a background check. At least two supervisors will be present at the shelters at all times, with at least one of those supervisors being a certified recovery coach.  The hired staff will be employed by Mylan Puskar Health Right/Friendship Room.

The warming shelter is in need of volunteers. If the temperature falls to 34 degrees or below, the volunteer shifts will be 8 p.m.-midnight and from midnight-7:30 a.m. If you are interested in helping the community with this critical service, please contact Janette Lewis at 304-322-2063 or email at Janette@unitedwaympc.org.