Starting on Monday, Jan. 26, Emmanuel Church at 15 Newbury Street in Boston is opening its parish hall on Mondays and Fridays as a temporary day shelter for homeless people who need a place to come in out of the cold.
Nearby Old South Church (UCC) opened a similar emergency weekday drop-in space this week.
Both church shelters are the result of efforts by an interfaith coalition of religious leaders trying to help address the ongoing plight of the 700-some people displaced by the abrupt closure, in October, of the city's largest homeless shelter and a rehab program on Long Island in Boston Harbor.
The only bridge to the island was deemed unsafe and closed indefinitely for repairs. The closure appears to have been made without an advance plan to accommodate shelter residents, who have, in the months since, been housed at night in a gymnasium and other temporary locations that advocates for the homeless say are inadequate.
Fast-tracked renovations to a city-owned building on Southampton Street near Interstate 93 made 100 new beds available to homeless men just last week. Several hundred additional beds will be available when the facility opens at full capacity, but that won't be for several more months, according to news reports.
As they contend with winter weather, unhoused people have few places to go during the daytime hours either. Existing day shelters are over capacity.
The Rev. Pamela Werntz, Rector of Emmanuel Church, calls the ongoing lack of shelter "a humanitarian crisis."
"I want people to know there's a crisis in Boston right now. In addition to those who were already struggling to find shelter, we now have the 700 residents who were evacuated from Long Island without notice. The city has not been able to provide for their immediate needs at the coldest time of year," Werntz said, prompting the formation of Boston Religious Leaders for Long Island Refugees and its "Boston Warm" campaign.
Emmanuel's parish hall can accommodate about 80 people at a time, and will be open two days a week, on Mondays and Fridays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., through Good Friday, April 3. Old South can host about 35 people at a time in the rooms it has set aside, which are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., until April. A third site is still being identified.
The coalition needs to raise $58,000 to cover the cost of staffing and running the three temporary day shelters; volunteers are also needed.
"The most pressing need is money. No amount is too small," Werntz said. Donations designated for "Boston Warm" can be sent to the City Mission Society of Boston at 14 Beacon Street #203, Boston MA 02108. Information on volunteering is available at www.bostonwarm.weebly.com. Inquiries specific to the Emmanuel Church site can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. An online sign-up form for volunteering at Emmanuel is now available here.
The Very Rev. Jep Streit and the Rev. Tina Rathbone of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul are active members of the coalition, along with Werntz, the Rev. Rainey Dankel of Trinity Church and representatives from Ecclesia Ministries.
"I'm proud of the Episcopal Church's response in the coalition that's formed," Werntz said. "As horrible as this situation is, it's great to see how people are working together across differences and against formidable challenges. I feel really grateful," Werntz said.
--Tracy J. Sukraw
Feb. 24 update: The two Boston day shelters opened in January continue to operate at Emmanuel Church and Old South Church (UCC). The Rev. Pamela Werntz, Rector of Emmanuel Church, said that the shelters are working out the details of a plan to extend some day shelter availability into April. Material donations are being requested via an Amazon Wishlist, an initiative that Werntz said has been"wildly successful" so far. There is also a list of other material donations needed on the BostonWarm site, and donations can be brought to Emmanuel Church, Old South Church, First Church Cambridge and St. Peter's Church in Weston. The shelters are also in need of volunteers to help unpack and sort donations. To volunteer, fill out one of the forms available here.