Faith hosts Safe Space
“I’m so proud of Faith! It’s exactly what Jesus would do.”
Those are the words of Bonnie Pulliam, a member of the Faith Lutheran congregation. She was talking about the church’s participation in the Safe Space project to house homeless people who can’t or don’t use Chico’s regular shelters.
Bonnie was one of more than 60 volunteers who helped the church shelter dozens of guests for seven nights, from Jan. 8 through Jan. 14.
Safe Space is an organization made up entirely of volunteers who aim to see that as many people as possible have a warm place to stay during Chico’s cold months.
About eight to 10 churches take turns providing space for people to sleep at night for a week or two between Dec. 1 and the end of February.
This is the third season Safe Space has arranged temporary shelter, said Marge Troester, who volunteers with Safe Space for all three months. Along with fellow Faith church member Rita Bova, Marge coordinated Faith’s participation in the program this year. This was the second season Faith has taken part.
It was a lot different this year than last, Marge said. Last year, the only thing required of churches was to provide a place for visitors to sleep. Safe Space volunteers did all the rest. But this year, Safe Space asked the churches to provide volunteer workers and dinner each evening.
It took a lot of effort, but it went very well, Marge said. “I was amazed by the number of volunteers. Sixty signed up plus some others who just dropped in wanting to help.”
Sixteen of the volunteers who signed up were from Bethel AME church, noted Faith pastor Ben Colahan. Since the two congregations worked together to clean up the Bethel grounds last fall, Faith and Bethel have been looking for chances to do other things together.
Each night more than 50 guests were housed in the Faith parish hall. That included half a dozen people who had small dogs. The dogs and their owners slept in the hallway. Local shelters do not allow dogs. As a result, some dog owners sleep outdoors. Pastor Ben said the dogs who stayed in the church were very well-behaved.
Each evening, the Safe Space guests gather at a check-in center at a downtown church. Then they are transported to the church that is that week’s host. Sometimes they go by bus, and sometimes by volunteers’ cars. In the morning, they are driven to the Jesus Center, where they have breakfast.
Volunteers sign up for one (or more) of seven jobs that involve doing such things as setting up cots, shopping and preparing dinner, cleaning up the Parish Hall, and keeping an eye on things as the guests sleep.
Pastor Ben volunteered for a shift as an “early morning monitor.” It meant being on duty in the Parish Hall from 1 to 7 a.m. and meeting any needs the guests had, such as providing a glass of water, a band-aid, or a dose of cold medicine. It was very peaceful, very quiet, Ben said. A Safe Space volunteer was present also during the nighttime shifts.
“In the morning, we made coffee and woke people up,” Ben said.
Volunteers benefited in a variety of ways by helping with Safe Space, the pastor said. “Sometimes it can be scary to interact with someone who seems very different from us. Time and time again, people said to me, ‘I got to talk to folks and realized simply because someone doesn’t have a roof over their head, they are still an ordinary person — a beloved child of God.”
Bonnie Pulliam also did a night monitor shift. “Our guests were respectful and grateful,” she said.
Joan Palmer worked on a team that made dinner one night. She said it was an easy job, partly because church member Chris Borcich, a professional chef, was on her team.
“We served a dinner of ham, macaroni and cheese, salad and brownies. Some people brought pies,” she said. “It was a good experience and made us feel like we were contributing.”
As a coordinator, Marge worked every evening and had dinner at the church. “I haven’t eaten so well in a long time,” she said. Some of the main dishes were spaghetti and meat balls, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and pork roast with a stuffing. Faith member Karen Avis, a caterer, led the team that cooked the roast.
Marge said she has noticed a difference in the people using Safe Space from its start in December up to now. “They look healthier and more bright-eyed,” she said. “It struck me how much hope good meals and a warm place to stay gives to people — how much that contributes to their dignity.”
Pastor Ben said several special offerings at church raised about $900. That money went to buy food for the dinners that were served.
Another pair of Faith volunteers, Dan and Tina Solomon, worked as greeters one evening. “We put the cots out and when people came in, we said, ‘Hi, how are you?’ ” Dan said. “I did enjoy it. I’d do it again.” The Solomons also did a shift setting up one morning.
Each night after dinner, musicians from the Chico community — guitarists, pianists and singers — performed for an hour or so.
It was thought volunteers might play games with the guests, as well, but that turned out not to be suitable.
“These folks are tired,” Marge said. “Their focus is having dinner and getting to bed.”
“What a blessing it is to offer Christ’s hospitality to people who need it,” Pastor Ben said.
Marge agreed. “There was such a feeling of community among the people who worked to make this happen,” she said. “It’s really rewarding. It adds to the vibrancy of our church community.”