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Arvada shelter keeps local homeless warm

The Arvada Severe Weather Shelter Network opened its doors Dec. 3

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As the temperatures continue to drop, those experiencing homelessness in Arvada now have a place to stay warm overnight with the opening of a severe weather shelter.

The network is an extension of The Severe Weather Shelter Network, a Christian nonprofit working to help safeguard Jefferson County’s homeless residents. The model utilizes a network of churches that open their doors on a one-week rotation when the overnight temperature drops below 32 degrees with wet conditions and below 25 degrees with dry conditions.

“I’m excited to have it up and running,” said LynnAnn Huizingh, executive director of the Severe Weather Shelter Network. “For the last three years I’ve been making journeys to various churches to talk about Severe Weather Shelter Network and the opportunity that there was to help prevent people from freezing to death.”

But Huizingh said the response from many was that Arvada didn’t have a problem with homelessness.

Over the years, the response has changed.

This summer city officials came together and approached Huizingh about creating the emergency shelter in Arvada.

“It’s been a little bit of a mad scramble because normally we start those processes in January or February,” Huizingh said.

But the faith community and the city of Arvada came together and the shelters opened for a shortened season, which will run through March 31.

City Unite Arvada, a group of pastors that work together to meet the needs of the city, was instrumental in gathering enough volunteers to make the Arvada shelter network a reality.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a group of churches that have been working together to serve locally for over a decade now,” said Dave Runyon, of City Unite. “The fact that we had a preexisting relationship was instrumental in being able to pull this off as quick as we did.”

Runyon tipped his hat to the three churches that became host sites saying that they went out of their way to open their building and reorient activities such as youth groups and Alcohol Anonymous meetings, which are normally hosted weekly at their sites.

Arvada churches that are donating their buildings for shelter space are Mile High Vinyard Arvada and The Rising Church in the Olde Town area, and Arvada Covenant Church, located on Ward Road in South Arvada.

While the three host sites are providing buildings for the shelter, the volunteer base is coming from churches throughout the city.

“Sometimes churches aren’t friendly — they don’t play nice in the same sandbox,” said Corey Garris, pastor at the Arvada Vinyard. “ So, I love that we’re working together and we’re all doing different parts.”

The Arvada Vinyard hosted the shelter the week leading up to Christmas when temperatures in Arvada dropped to 17 degrees.

“It’s interesting,” Garris said. “When you hear cold weather shelter, it can feel like a big thing. But in the moment, it’s really just hospitality. It’s a meal, a place to lay their head. It’s really simple.”

One volunteer spending the night at the shelter last week was Albert Muth, who has previously attended the Severe Weather Shelter in Lakewood as a guest.

“I used to be homeless and I figured it was a nice way to pay back what was so freely given to me a couple years ago,” Muth said of his choice to volunteer.

Muth started attended Mile High Vinyard Arvada on Easter of 2017.

“I liked what I heard,” he said. “And by June, I started attending every Sunday.”

When Muth heard that his church was going to be part of a homeless ministry, he thought it was a perfect opportunity for him.

“Since I’ve been on the other side, I thought it would be a beautiful thing to do — I was given a nice opportunity at life again,” Muth said.

The shelter in Arvada has grown from one guest its first night to 13 on its third night. The capacity is 35. But with a short sheltering season, Huizingh expects to average 15 to 20 guests each night the shelter is open.

To keep the shelter running smoothly, volunteers are still needed. The most need is for overnight hosts and drivers.

“The thing I’m most excited about is this will bridge the gap between the affluent Arvada families and the Arvada citizens that are living on the margin,” Runyon said. “We’re gonna serve some people that are really in need, but I’m gambling that the biggest impact is going to be on the people who are serving.”

But Runyon said the emergency shelter is just one part of it.

“It’s a great thing that we finally have a severe weather shelter, but were never going to make a difference until we figure out transitional housing and affordable housing in our city,” Runyon said.

For Garris, what hooked him was learning there were about 150 people that live within one mile of his church that don’t have a place to call home.

“We’ve really tried hard, especially with City Unite to be good neighbors,” Garris said. “But what does it look like to love someone that is different than you? To me, this is the next logical step for our city to figure out because this challenge is not going away.”

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