Each winter, for the past four years, Bloomington’s Interfaith Shelter, a collection of shelter locations around the city, has been housing up to 70 men and women whose lives have been affected by homelessness. But recently there have not been enough beds for the homeless on Saturday evenings.
The shortage has caused officials and volunteers to worry participation in the program could decline in years to come. Henry Upper, a local volunteer, says Saturdays are not a day that most churches and shelter sites are willing to provide housing for that night because they have to prepare for Sunday worship, too.
“Generally there is an activity in the church the very next morning, and even though some of the volunteers are divided off into clean-up crews from 7 o’ clock in the morning until things begin at the church,” he says. “In one hour there needs to be a huge force of clean up. This begins to be wearing maybe on a church.”
Before the following night, every mat, pillow, and blanket used needs to be cleaned, causing shelter sites to be in a hurry before Sunday morning activities. But with increasing numbers in recent years, Interfaith Shelter board member Virginia Hall says her worry is not that the homeless cannot be helped, it is that they cannot be housed.
“Our real issue is space, not volunteers,” she says. “We have over 400 volunteers signed up right now this year, and that’s pretty consistent.”
The organization is seeking out more churches with which it can partner, in hopes of increasing the number of people it can sleep each night.