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Starting this month, local churches will once again act as host to women and children in need of a place to stay.Run by 1,200 volunteers, the Winter Shelter Network, in its second year, rotates through 12 churches in Douglas County, providing meals, beds and safety. Last season, the program counted 1,249 "bed nights" — the equivalent to a head on a bed each night. The program lasts through March 31.On average, 12 people utilized this service every night last year, but sometimes as many as 20. Almost half of the guests are single moms with children.“I anticipate a larger number of guests this season as word has spread about our network," said Erin White, the program administrator.The shelter accepts women and children to locations in Castle Rock, Parker and unincorporated Douglas County, including Highlands Ranch, for up to 31 days.“My heart hurts when I think about the fact that my neighbors don’t have a safe and stable place to sleep at night, especially during our colder months,” White said. “We have the space and the resources at our local churches to provide rest, meals and connection to this vulnerable group of residents.”This year, the organization hired a care coordinator to provide resources and support alongside the volunteers, plus they have joined a transportation program to help get guests to the different locations each night.Steve Kascht, a retired school administrator, co-leads the Parker United Methodist shelter. He said about a year ago at church, the pastor asked if anyone would like to help out, and a line of people formed. This location has 120 volunteers working on specific duties, such as set-up, laundry and security.“We make dinners and work with the guests in the evening, whether that’s school kids who need getting outside to toss the football, to tutoring; to moms and women who may need to sit and drink coffee if they have anything they want to talk about, or hide out and take it easy,” Kascht said. “Every night is different.”After extensive preparations, volunteers, including Kascht, start at 3 p.m., a couple hours before the guests.“It’s like, and this sounds goofy, but it’s like friends are showing up,” Kascht said.The program was organized in 2015, as local churches began to notice the growing problem of homelessness. It was launched on Nov. 1, 2016 and ran through the end of March 2017, before starting up again on Nov. 1.Today, a council of church representatives and community agencies meet regularly, and Southeast Community Outreach — a Parker-based group that aims to provide "a safety net with critical emergency assistance to prevent hunger and homelessness," according to its website — handles financial matters.“It’s really meaningful, I think we got into it certainly knowing we'd be able to help these people who are in various stages of stress, and when it was all done last year, we had a lot of post-shelter evaluations,” Kascht said. “We weren’t surprised by this, but what we were getting out of it at least equaled what the guests were getting out of it.”Many of their former guests have now landed jobs and live in permanent homes.More informationWebsite: www.wintershelternetwork.comEmail: email@example.comPhone: 720-485-1008
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