Wednesday, May 9, 2012

ZANESVILLE, OH Church Opens Doors as Homeless Shelter

ZANESVILLE -- Zanesville's homeless population has a new option for where to spend its nights.
First United Methodist Church, on Putnam Avenue, has transformed an unused wing of its building into a homeless shelter. The shelter features separate rooms for men and woman, a room for families and a lounge area with a couch.
It's open every day from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following day. There are no restrictions on who can stay.
During April, the first month the shelter was open, 30 people stayed overnight at the church, for a total of 94 stays, Marilyn Moody, FUMC secretary, said. There are about six people at the shelter on an average night, she said.
"We don't know when anybody might have a need to sleep somewhere, and where do you go?" Moody said. "We're just glad we're here to serve our neighbors."
The idea for the shelter came from Zanesville resident Joyce Spears, who runs her own homelessness ministry at night, driving around Zanesville giving out hot meals.
Spears also is trying to launch a daytime resource center for homeless people that would include a laundry facility, a kitchen, showers, computers, TVs, offices, counseling and literacy classes -- anything to help people overcome whatever obstacles are keeping them homeless.
During the latest homeless count, the Muskingum County Continuum of Care counted 67 homeless people in the county. That includes 42 people living in shelters or transitional housing and 25 on the streets.
Spears' original plan for the homeless shelter was for 12 churches to sign on to form a rotating homeless shelter. One church would host for a month, then the shelter would rotate to the next church in line. Spears also was having trouble getting churches signed up, so when she made her pitch to the about 12- member FUMC advisory council, the members immediately and unanimously decided to help, Moody said.
"We have been shown that that's our mission, to be a servant church," Moody said.
FUMC agreed to open up its space, and Spears agreed to find volunteers to supervise the shelter at night.
The shelter is a side wing that originally was the church's parsonage. In the '60s, the pastor's family decided to move into a separate home, and the rooms were turned into Sunday school classes. Then in the '80s, it got too expensive to heat, and the church closed off the wing. Since then, it hasn't been used for much other than storage and occasionally as a prayer room, Moody said.
FUMC started in March preparing the wing. With the help of volunteers and donations, both from the church and elsewhere, FUMC fixed up two bathrooms with new toilets and sinks, put up drywall, installed new smoke detectors and a new door for the fire escape and put in new curtains.
Then on April 1, the shelter opened.
There's still a lot to be done -- painting, cleaning and a few bigger projects, such as updating the electrical wiring in the shelter -- but FUMC plans to figure that out along the way, Moody said.
She also is hoping the church will be able to raise money to pay for the extra heating bills during the winter, and maybe get some fans donated to cool the building during summer.
"We have no idea what expenses will be coming up from this," Moody said. "We just trust that God will provide and people will come forward.
"No one knows how to do this. It's just something you learn as you go."; (740) 450-6758


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