By Ralph Echtinaw
The Hope House homeless shelter is back in business for the coming three winters, as St. Louis planning commissioners voted Wednesday to approve a three-year special land use permit with annual reviews.
It’s also opening earlier this year, Nov. 3, and staying open into April 2020. (Last winter it didn’t open until Jan. 26.)
Located at the St. Louis Church of the Nazarene, the shelter housed 24 people in its first year last winter. Some guests stayed just a night or two; others were there longer. The shelter helped two of them find permanent housing. Around 300 volunteers contributed 2,300 hours in total, said Hope House Director Jake Gregory, who also serves as pastor of St. Louis Church of the Nazarene.
That includes “a few in particular who just worked so many hours and shifts,” Gregory said. “Over 30 shifts one person did.”
The average attendance per night last year was four people, Gregory said. Other shelter operators have told him it’s common to have low usage in first year, but it grows, so the need for volunteers may be greater in the coming winter.
With that in mind, Gregory is working on volunteer training videos that can be viewed online and reaching out to every church in Gratiot County for help and volunteers.
More than 20 businesses and organizations supported the effort last winter, including Carrie Knauss school staff, Pizza Sam and Alma College athletes, Gregory said.
Although most guests agreed to follow Hope House rules, a few realized it wasn’t for them. “When they realized there were some rules that have to be followed that we expected some things of them some folks just kind of moseyed on along and headed out the door,” Gregory said.
A welcome change for future Hope House residents is the addition of showers and a laundry room, thanks to a grant from the Gratiot Community Foundation.
The latest report on Gratiot County put the number of homeless people at 131 in 2018, which is down from 600 in 2017. But Gregory stressed that this year’s report doesn’t include people who are living with friends or family because they have no home of their own.
“I was bugging some people at EightCap, where I get that report from,” Gregory said. “Where’s the other half of this? And they said the state didn’t offer it to them this year. And they weren’t able to locate it themselves, which is unfortunate.”
If you would like to volunteer at Hope House, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (989) 948-0404. You can also like Hope House on Facebook: facebook.com/gchopehouse. If you want to donate money, there’s a button for it there.