Editor, The Independent:
The Owosso Area Ministerial Association and Walls of Warmth Shiawassee (a new group consisting of churches, community members, local businesses and organizations) have teamed up to develop a plan to provide immediate, temporary housing to homeless individuals of all social and cultural identities in Shiawassee County. The workgroup is also advocating to access services needed by shelter guests to address individual needs, including, but not limited to housing and food assistance as well as employment services, obtaining identification, access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
Recognizing that Shiawassee County did not have a homeless shelter, and one was not likely in the near future, Penny Corbin, Prevention Specialist and “Walls of Warmth” (WOW) Planning Workgroup Coordinator, began scouting out other possibilities. Several other Michigan communities, such as Traverse City, Washtenaw County, Detroit and Isabella County, use the rotating homeless shelter model.
“The concept is not complicated,” explained Marlene Webster, president of the Owosso Area Ministerial Association and WOW Planning Workgroup member. “Churches will volunteer to shelter Shiawassee County’s homeless population for a week at a time, and then rotate throughout the coldest months of the year.”
The workgroup, presently eight people and growing, has been collecting a list of Host churches and Partnering churches/organizations. Host churches are those with facilities large enough to house the homeless population for a week at a time. Partnering churches/organizations are those with smaller locations, but enough volunteers to help out in other ways by providing dinner and breakfast, volunteering, supplying blankets, mats, food and laundry services, to list a few. The YMCA will provide showers but guests first need to obtain a voucher from the WOW Welcome Center.
As of Wednesday, Dec. 16, five churches and one organization in the Owosso area will be participating in the one-week rotation schedule as host sites during the months of January, February and March. Some churches have scheduled to host for one week in each month.
“The first rotating shelter will begin Jan. 3 and is intended to last potentially as late as March. This shelter will operate 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week,” explained Corbin. “Everyone we’ve talked to has been very helpful. There is definitely a need in the community.”
It is difficult to identify the exact number of homeless individuals in the county. During the Project Connect event this past September, 17 attendees reported they were literally homeless; 40 reported they were couch homeless. Over the last school year, 533 school children were identified as homeless in Shiawassee County.
“The primary objective for ‘Walls of Warmth’ is to give people a safe place to sleep for the night. To ensure this is possible, all bags will be checked and background checks will be conducted,” explained Webster.
Registration begins every day, 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. at the WOW Welcome Center located at the Owosso City Church, at 121 W. Exchange Street, downtown Owosso. Guests will then be transported to the host site of the week for a night filled with warmth, food and activities. The location of the rotating shelter will not be made public for security purposes. In the morning, participants are transported to the Salvation Army, 302 E. Exchange Street in Owosso.
“If your organization would like to be a host site, would like to volunteer, know someone who could use the services of the Walls of Warmth Shiawassee or would like to make a donation, please call
(989) 494-6910,” said Webster. Donations can be made to the Owosso Area Ministerial Association, P.O. Box 911, Owosso, MI 48867. “Please write WOW on the memo line,” added Webster.
Walls of Warmth, Owosso