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In March 2022, it will be two years since we last hosted a family in a congregation. That is a long time. Planning is underway to develop a way to shelter families using volunteers. Yet, two years later, the world is a difference place and Covid-19 has not gone away. The reality is that, when we return to the congregations it is not going to be the same. Therefore, this blog and the following 10 questions and answers should give you an idea of what a new volunteer-based shelter program could look like. Please read with pondering this question: Would I be ready to volunteer?

Of course, a change in circumstances could make all of these ideas irrelevant. If you have any questions of comments please send them to Joe Nettesheim

1. Will the families rotate from congregation to congregation?

No. We would host the families at one church. Family Promise calls this a static model of shelter. The reason for this approach is first, not all the congregations are ready to host families. Therefore, we could not realistically begin the rotational model. Second, keeping families in one site will limit contact and lessen the opportunity for the virus to spread. Third, we will have more control over our ability to clean and disinfect the site.

2. Which faith community would host?

We are discussing this option with a new congregational partner in Pewaukee. Once all the details are worked out, we will share that information.

What we know is that volunteers make a profound impact on the life of a person experiencing homelessness. It is a transformative experience when a volunteer, whose life is busy, takes time to be present to a family.

3. What Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place?

Keeping families, staff, and volunteers healthy is our priority. With that in mind, we would implement the following protocols to limit the exposure to Covid-19.

  • All volunteers, staff and families are encouraged to get vaccinated.

  • Families will be tested before entering the program and twice weekly. If they test positive, we will quarantine them offsite according to CDC guidelines.

  • We will limit the number of families to two or no more than seven individuals.

  • Everyone two years of age and older will be expected to wear a mask in common areas. (N95 or KN95 masks are most effective.)

  • Social distancing will be followed or staggered mealtimes.

  • Washing hands will be encouraged

  • Disinfecting the space will be a priority

  • We are investigating Heppa filters.

  • The temperature of each family member will be taken each morning and evening.

  • Volunteers are encouraged to stay home if they are not feeling well

4. Would congregations still be responsible for recruiting volunteers and planning the details of each week?

Yes, a host and support community would choose their week. The Volunteer Coordinator’s from those communities would take the lead in recruiting volunteers, planning meals, etc.; however, recruitment efforts would go beyond their own faith communities. This “pool” approach would mean that we are requesting volunteers to serve regardless of if they belong to the host or support community.

We estimate needing 168 volunteers every month- assuming no one helps more than once a month. If people serve once a quarter as in the past, we will need a total of 504 volunteers. We will need all hands on deck and a collaborative spirit among our volunteers.

Volunteers would sign up via sign-up genius.

5. What are the volunteer needs?

The format of the program would remain similar. We are considering eliminating one shift so that we would need fewer volunteers each day. Making meals would be a great way to get involved for someone who wants to help but is hesitant for direct contact.

We expect to need the following volunteers:

  • Make meals (drop off by 5pm)

  • Serve meals and provide hospitality to the families (5:30pm-8pm)

  • Overnight and breakfast (8pm-7am)

  • Van drivers (morning 7am – evenings 5pm)

Since it is at one site, we would not need a set-up or clean-up crew.

6. If I have been a volunteer, will I be expected to go through training?

Yes. All volunteers must participate in a training session. With a new site and a new model of shelter, orientation is essential. Plus, it has been two years. A refresher is important.

7. When do you plan to start?

Our goal is to open April 1.

8. How is the prevention and shelter programs working now?

Both of those programs have been successful and have potential to grow. Preventing homelessness has been a revelation. It helps a family avoid the chaos of losing everything! The children do not have a disruption to their education. Preventing homelessness is just better for everyone involved. The Apartment Shelter has been good. It fosters independence and offers a way to live that will be similar to post-shelter life. Both programs will continue.

9. Why is it important to get back to a model that uses volunteers if you have an effective program using the apartments and preventing homelessness?

We are proud of these programs and believe they are effective. However, we miss our volunteers. More accurately the families miss the volunteers. What we know is that volunteers make a profound impact on the life of a person experiencing homelessness. It is a transformative experience when a volunteer, whose life is busy, takes time to be present to a family. Families come to us at a time in their life that they are despairing, uncertain, embarrassed, and feeling like they are worthless. Then a volunteer…. well, not just one volunteer but a congregation full of volunteers, says through their presence and actions, “We care about you, we want to know you, we are here to help.” This is an important message which inspires hope. Therefore, it is important to find a way to shelter families using volunteers.

You should consider volunteering!

10. How do I volunteer?

When everything is in place- hopefully in the next 2-3 weeks, we will provide a volunteer form for you to sign-up. Every volunteer will be subject to a criminal background check. Once cleared, volunteers will need to participate in training. One component is online, and another will be in person. Both are mandatory for participation. Multiple opportunities for training will be available.

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