Last July, more than 300 volunteers and others spread out on a single night to take the annual nose count of homeless people in Sacramento County. When they were finished, the number was 2,659. That is less than one percent of the population. While that sounds small, you do not have to travel very far in Rancho Cordova to see the huge impact of homelessness.
Homelessness is a national problem, and most everybody agrees there are no easy answers. But when the weather gets cold, a group of Rancho Cordova churches believe it is their responsibility to provide a warm, safe place to sleep, a hot meal and maybe a shower and laundry services to the hundred or more people who are homeless in Rancho Cordova.
This collaboration of churches calls themselves “HART – Homeless Assistance Resource Team.”
This winter, they activated hundreds of volunteers in our community to meet basic needs of homeless people who, while sometimes invisible to us, live amongst us.
Crossing denominational lines and city boundaries, the HART program provided overnight housing on a rotating basis for 8 weeks. Participating churches included: Sun River Church, Cordova Neighborhood Church, Cordova Church of Christ, St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Way of Life Church, United Methodist Church of Rancho Cordova, Holy Family Catholic Church and Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church.
Participants were picked up each afternoon at Way of Life Church on Folsom Boulevard and transported by bus provided by Cordova Church of Christ to the church providing shelter that week.
They were provided food, showers where available, clean sleeping bags and cots, toiletries, referrals to transitional and permanent housing, and laundry services where available.
Larry Stafford from Cordova Church of Christ reported that during the eight week period, HART was there for the birth of one baby, cared for several pregnant women, and two adorable three year old girls – one of whom was certain he was Santa Claus.
Karen Edwards of Sun River Church said that on the first night, there were seven guests, but as word got around the numbers grew steadily over the next two weeks to the maximum capacity of 30. She said the effort hit a one night high of 32, and held steady most nights at 25 to 30 guests.
Counting the number of nights and number of individuals who stayed, HART provided 1,279 individual nights of shelter. That also means hundreds of evening meals and breakfasts.
Most churches reported having as many as 100 volunteers doing everything from greeting and helping with laundry, supervising showers, cooking, serving, cleaning and acting as overnight chaperones. Some volunteers moved from church to church, serving for the entire 8 weeks. Charlie Miller drove the bus every day, arriving for duty at 5 a.m. and returning for duty at 5 p.m. The total? 250-300 over the 8 weeks, organizers said.
Larry told us this:
“We are thrilled at the way our faith community was able to come together and work as a team to address this very obvious problem on the streets of Rancho. It was great to watch our volunteers, hundreds of them, work to serve “the least of these” in ways they never would have done on their own, and without the organizing of the HART Team. I am sure there are a thousand wonderful stories out there.”
We are pretty sure you are right.
Homelessness is a very complex and vicious problem, but that does not mean that volunteers cannot tackle it and make a difference. That is certainly the case here.
While hundreds of volunteers were involved in the HART Winter Shelter effort, a few took the lead: Karen Edwards, Inez Reyes, Fay Kerekes, Nan Traud and Larry Stafford. Please come up and represent the many dozens of volunteers from eight different churches who participated in this cause, and accept our thanks for Outstanding Service by a Faith Organization.