Where love comes to life … on a cold winter’s night.

It’s getting late on a cold winter’s afternoon. The sun is dipping below the hills and the temperature is plummeting – another frosty night. People are heading home to turn on the heating, crank up the electric blanket and prepare a hearty, hot meal. Then they will lock their doors and go to bed without a second thought as to whether they will be safe through the night.

But imagine there’s no home to go to … nowhere to sit, no food to prepare, no warm bed, nowhere to feel safe while you try to sleep. Sadly, this is the reality for a growing number of people in Australia – even in reasonably affluent areas such as the Yarra Ranges in Victoria. It has been reported that the fastest growth in need for social housing is in Victoria, but demand far outstrips supply.

And becoming homeless can happen so easily if you are already under financial stress, struggling to make ends meet. All it takes is a relationship breakdown, or being made redundant, and you find yourself with nowhere to call home.

Members of Lilydale congregation prepare for guests at the Winter Night Shelter.

In 2018, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lilydale became involved in the ‘Winter Night Shelter Project’ run by Stable One. Stable One is an organisation which partners with local churches and congregations, enabling them to work together, to use their buildings as venues for overnight accommodation and engaging their members as volunteers.

Last year, eight churches in the Yarra Ranges council area partnered with Stable One to host the Winter Night Shelter. Each night during the winter months, one of the churches opened their doors to provide warm and safe overnight accommodation along with a delicious, hot evening meal and breakfast the next morning. One of the churches also offered their church hall as a Daytime Support Centre where guests could have a shower, ‘hang out’ and play table tennis, use kitchen and lounge facilities and have access to lockers to temporarily store their belongings.

There were 185 trained volunteers from the various participating churches involved in the project, ranging in age from 18 to 84! They did everything from cooking meals, driving the trailer which held all the camp beds, bedding and other supplies from venue to venue, driving the minibus from the Daytime Support Centre to the overnight accommodation venue and staffing shifts at each venue so that guests had people to talk to, play games with and ‘take watch’ during the night to ensure everyone’s safety. Other (non-trained) volunteers from each church baked cakes and slices for supper, provided baskets of fresh fruit, did laundry and – most importantly – kept the whole project in their prayers.

A group of middle aged people dressed in winter pyjamas and beanies sit around playing card games and drinking hot drinks.

Guests rugged up and enjoying themselves at the winter night shelter.

Guests are treated to healthy and tasty treats at the Winter Night Shelter.

Guests wanting accommodation were firstly screened by trained staff. Guests needed to be over the age of 25 and not affected by drugs or alcohol. Anyone with a mental illness was only accepted if their illness was being well managed. This was necessary to ensure the safety of guests and volunteers alike.

The Winter Night Shelter hosted 26 different guests in 2018 – some stayed only one week, some stayed for up to 11 weeks. Stable One was successful in finding more stable accommodation for a number of guests during the project. Guests were very positive about their experience and appreciative of the home cooked food and warm spaces available.

The success of the project in the Yarra Ranges has meant that churches in other council areas are also looking to hold their own Winter Night Shelters. Local councils need to be on board for these projects to proceed (due to various legal requirements).

Our congregation is looking forward to being involved once again with the Winter Night Shelter in 2019. It has really opened my eyes to an ‘invisible’ problem in my own neighbourhood and I enjoy being able to contribute even in a small way to improving the lives of others. There could be no more fitting way for our church to be a place ‘where love comes to life’.

If you are interested in finding out more about Stable One, you can visit their website: https://stableone.org/ or follow them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stableonechurchestogether/.You can make donations towards the running of the Winter Night Shelter via the website.

About the Author

Trudi Skene

Trudi is a past guest editor of Lutheran Women and is a member of Outer Eastern Lutheran Church, Victoria.

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