Brenda Shepard stood in the gymnasium at The Rising Church in Olde Town Arvada. She was freshly showered, had a warm cup of coffee and folded clothes she recently picked out of the church’s racks, available to area homeless people and those living in poverty.Shepard, 48, was one of almost 30 individuals that utilized the new day center at The Rising Church the morning of Oct 3.“We’ve been coming to the day shelter for the last couple weeks,” said Shepard, who has been experiencing homelessness for the past three months. “It’s very nice because they have a hot meal for you every day.”Shepard found herself homeless when things slowed down at her self employed business. She currently sleeps in a tent with her fiance.“We’re trying to find work and get off the streets,” she said. “And with the help of the church, I think that’s possible.”The Rising Church has long been an advocate for the homeless and in-need residents in Arvada offering services like Celebrate Recovery, a food pantry and clothing center, a blessing box — which serves as a mini pantry outside the church — and sheltering the homeless on extreme weather nights with snow over six inches or the temperature dropping to single digits. The church, which is private property, has also allowed many homeless in the Olde Town Arvada area to sleep on their property nightly. But with new programing in the works, the Rev. Steve Byers, pastor of The Rising Church, said they are no longer allowing people to stay on the church property at night.The newest endeavor is the opening of a day shelter, through a partnership with Mean Streets Ministry, a homeless outreach based in Lakewood. The day shelter is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and allows those living on the streets to come inside, get warm, get clothes and hot food, shower and work toward getting other services needed. Shepard is also starting to teach a yoga class at the shelter.“The idea,“ Byers said, “was to be a little more strategic, programmatic and do what we were doing before in a more structured way.The center allows them to do what Byers calls “triage” by engaging the homeless population in better conversations and asking more questions, which will in turn lead them to get the services needed to end their homelessness.“What we have is trust,” Byers said, adding that he makes a point to get to know each individual utilizing services, which on some days gets up to 40.“We’re seeing a lot more homeless this year than last year,” Byers said.Severe weather shelteringArvada city officials have recognized the rise in homelessness in the area and have been working toward establishing a Severe Weather Shelter Network in the area.“On the really cold days or the blizzards, our homeless folks are simply trying to find any location where they can get out of the severe weather,” Arvada Police Chief Don Wick previously told the Arvada Press. “The last thing we want to see is a fellow human being dying on the street when they were exposed to severe weather and we could have had a shelter to protect them.”It’s been a three-year process, and in April, Lynn Ann Huizingh, executive director of the Severe Weather Shelter Network, said it it didn’t look like the system would be in place by this winter.But with the help of the city and area churches, the network in Arvada is moving forward with plans to open the first week of December.“The City of Arvada has really pressed hard into getting things moving,” Huizingh said.The Severe Weather Shelter Network is a Christian nonprofit working to help safeguard Jefferson County’s homeless residents.The city will coordinate the shelters using the Severe Weather Shelter Network model, which utilizes a network of churches that open their doors on a one-week-a-month rotation when the overnight temperature drops below 32 degrees with wet conditions and below 25 degrees with dry conditions.The Severe Weather Shelter Network launched its central program with churches in Lakewood, Golden and Denver almost five years ago and another network in south Jeffco and Littleton a year later.“The city of Arvada is the connector for the community partners,” said Enessa Janes, community resilience coordinator for the city. “Our leadership for a long time has known that services for people experiencing homelessness are limited in the area. We wanted to provide some leadership for this.”The Arvada network will have a shortened season for its first year, sheltering Dec. 3 through March 31. The shortened season will aid in getting the final pieces sorted out to ensure that the network comes to life. The rest of the network opened for possible shelter nights Oct. 1.“This is a pilot approach here in Arvada,” Janes said.The beta test for the Arvada network also requires a few tweaks to how the Severe Weather Shelter Network usually runs. One requirement the network usually has is that its guests are not able to walk to a host site. The Rising Church and Mile High Vineyard, two churches that expressed interest in hosting, are in close walking distance from where many homeless set up camp. Initially, even though they were willing, the churches were deemed not suitable as a host sites for the network because of proximity to homeless camps.Huizingh said an exception was made for this season and they are beta testing a new idea because many of the bigger churches that are farther away from what the network deems the “camping zone” have preschools or other children’s programing that prevents using that facility.Another church hoping to act as a host site is Arvada Covenant Church, located on Ward Road in South Arvada. For the past 10 years Arvada Covenant has been hosting families experiencing homelessness through Growing Home, a nonprofit serving children and families in the North Metro Denver community.“Our church is really committed to making a difference in our community in any way we can,” said the Rev. Nathan Powell, associate pastor at Arvada Covenant. “We’re excited to get involved.”Powell said what he’s most excited about is the partnerships that will eventually make the Severe Weather Shelter Network in Arvada a reality.“I’m just really excited that we’re doing this together,” he said. “I think it’s really cool that we can partner with the city and other churches to make a difference the the lives of these people. And we know that as we’re helping out, it affects our lives as well.”The city and individual churches are still gathering volunteers and additional host sites to bring the Arvada network to life.“From citizens of Arvada we really need volunteers and donations,” Janes said. “It doesn’t run without them. We want to make this sustainable over time.”
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