As Temperatures Drop, the Search for Shelter Heats Up

Oak Lawn UMC serving food

Oak Lawn UMC, agencies partner to provide inclement-weather housing for homeless

In January 2018, temperatures in Dallas plunged to record lows, with wind chills in the single digits. For some people, cold weather is an inconvenience that requires extra layers or simply turning on the heat in their homes. For people experiencing homelessness, the stakes are much higher:  freezing temperatures can be a matter of life or death.

Volunteer cooking foodPlano infoIn Dallas, shelters quickly reached capacity, leaving hundreds of people without a place to go. At Oak Lawn UMC, our diverse membership is a vital part of the way we interact with the community. On a cold night in January, one of our unsheltered members asked Rev. Rachel Baughman if we could do something to help. The answer was yes, and, that night, the church housed and fed over 30 people. As time went on and the cold temperatures continued, more people facing life threatening inclement weather came to the church to receive warm food and a warm place to rest. When we opened our doors, individuals and organizations from all around Dallas rose to the occasion and rallied to provide care for the often-overlooked people that live in our neighborhood.

In preparation for the coming winter months, we have been working with local shelters such as The Salvation Army and Austin Street Center, city leaders, and other faith organizations to create a streamlined system for assisting our neighbors experiencing homelessness. This group met several times in the past months in an effort to create a sustainable, ethical protocol to provide inclement-weather housing and tried valiantly to solicit more assistance from Dallas city government. Fortunately, through the collaborations of these organizations, we were able to develop a coordinated response and involve more faith partners in the process.

When temperatures drop below 32 degrees, the shelters will contact their partner churches so they can prepare to open their doors. At that point we will call on our three lay leaders that will oversee different logistical aspects of running our inclement-weather shelter. These lay leaders will be responsible for notifying our volunteer teams that our church will be opening up to provide food and warmth for our neighbors without shelter. To equip our volunteers, we are providing them with CPR/AED training and security training in the month of December. Although a pop-up shelter is unpredictable by nature, we will be prepared with cots, warm meals and other toiletries for up to 80 people.

If individuals or groups would like to help out, there are variety of ways to be involved in Oak Lawn UMC’s Inclement Weather Shelter. We are always accepting donations of clothing, coats, blankets and toiletries; you may also consider hosting a Coat Drive or Toiletries Drive at your organization. For churches that have several interested volunteers, form a team, select a leader for your team and then contact the church and we will get you in the necessary trainings. As a team, you can cook or provide warm meals, serve overnight in three-hour shifts or assist with welcoming our neighbors at check in.

Because of the collaboration of local organizations, excellence of our lay leaders, and faithfulness of our volunteers, this winter we will be prepared to ensure access to safe shelter for all who seek it when temperatures reach life-threatening levels.

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2018