The Winter Shelter Program has been running in other municipalities around Victoria for a few years now, but in 2020 the churches of Whitehorse became united to begin ‘Whitehorse Churches Care’ and to host a Winter Shelter in the municipality of Whitehorse.
Kerryn Pell was appointed as Coordinator & around 30 churches have been meeting to plan, pray & initiate the program to house up to 10 homeless people over the 13 weeks of Winter.
Phil Gaudion tells of the ups and downs of planning in the midst of lockdowns and uncertainty.
“We actually got right up to the line of launching Winter Shelter in 2020 but the lockdown in March that year put a complete shutdown to the process and we were unable to start. Thankfully the Victorian Government initiated a program to house many homeless people in hotels around the state to keep people off the streets during the height of the Covid pandemic here in Victoria – and now in 2021 we’ve been able to launch with over 200 volunteers, 6 churches providing venues to sleep people, feed them and even offer a day centre.”
Lockdown in early June 2021 caused us to halt the program once again even though we’ve jumped all the hoops of finding Local Council Temporary Occupancy Permits for each church building involved, recruited & trained volunteers to cover most of the shifts and lined up all the pieces to run the program. But in the 2nd week of July, the program launched with its first intake of people sleeping over.
Viv Siede, one of the volunteers commented, “What a privilege to be part of the first evening of the Winter Shelter that actually took place. Even though there was just the one client, we’re reminded that the Lord as our good shepherd, leaves the 99 to rescue the one!”
One of the guests commented, “No one cares for you as a homeless person”; “You can’t trust anyone – they are all a bunch of scumbags, they’re out to use you and abuse you”; “the government doesn’t care – those rooming houses I used to live in are toxic – I had to get out!”.
Yet, referring to his brief experience of Winter Shelter, he said, “I don’t understand this – you care, you’re different to anywhere else; I feel safe!” He was overwhelmed with gratitude.
Marilyn Burke is one of the Venue Coordinators at NewHope Baptist Church commented, “it’s been so great already even over one week to be meeting so many wonderful people from other churches in the area, and it’s a joy to be working together on a project like this”.
Due to the lockdown in Victoria, the Winter Shelter program is currently on hold with some of our guests being provided with hotel accommodation by one of the major organisations involved in the project.
Winter Shelter will resume after the current restrictions ease later in August and continue to run over the remaining weeks of Winter to provide a place of hope, refuge, love and care to those needing a warm meal & place to sleep during the coldest time of the year in Melbourne.
We invite you to pray for this important ministry and visit whitehorsechurchescare.org.au to find out more.