Homeless no longer have Sacred Heart Parish Outreach’s warming station to help them during the cold weather season

Homeless no longer have Sacred Heart Parish Outreach’s warming station to help during cold weather


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— The coldest temperatures to hit the greater Monroe area in at least a decade are requiring people to be vigilant about staying warm, whether they’re inside or outside.

For the last three years, anyone needing a place to step out of the cold during the overnight hours (yes, in Monroe, there are homeless people) could stop by the Sacred Heart Parish Outreach’s warming facility at Sacred Heart Chapel in Monroe.

But ability to do that no longer exists after the Outreach Program shut it down last March, citing issues too difficult to overcome.

Outreach Program Director Betsy Johnston said Sacred Heart never had permission to have cots in the building for sleeping.

Disrespectful and disruptiveRather, the intent was for the facility to be used by people needing a break from being out in the cold. They could only sit and not sleep in the pews.

“Sadly, people were also disrespectful,” Johnston said. “They were smoking; there was alcohol and drug abuse and disruption to the neighbors. People weren’t being respectful of the sanctity of the chapel. This wasn’t a good place for what we hoped to do. Plus, how do you prevent somebody from falling asleep if they’re sitting there? It was supposed to be a respite, according to the village, from the cold.”

When the warming station opened in 2015, it was for weekends only. For the 2016-17 and 2017-18 winter seasons, the facility was open seven nights.

690 nightsJohnston said for the prior winter season, the chapel was open for 136 nights, serving an average of five people a night.

“That’s 680 nights if we had to house people in a hotel,” said Johnston. “We were saving the county a lot of money.”

Johnston said there are many factors at play when dealing with the homeless.

“Many times they come from broken relationships or some form of drug or alcohol abuse,” she said. “They’re no longer wanted ‘to couch’ on their friends’ properties. They’ve worn out their welcome. We were the last resort.”

In addition to smoking, drinking and drug use, some tried to break down the doors after those doors were locked at 9 p.m., creating a further unsafe atmosphere for those inside, including volunteers who staffed the facility overnight.

Johnston said it was unfortunate things didn’t work out.

“We tried but we realized it’s a hard, cold fact that you cannot always do what’s needed,” she said. “Sure, we were disappointed. We were trying to offer a service and help people, but when I found bottles of vodka under the Virgin Mary’s statue, and cigarette butts on wooden pews built in the 1800s - to think the place could have gone up on flames - we had to take everything into consideration and make the hard decision.”

Taking care of the problems you canJohnston said she realizes having a house to provide the service would be a better option, but understood that idea brought with it too many problems and challenges that the Outreach Program was not going to take on.

“We’re trying to concentrate on feeding and clothing and helping people on a daily basis without providing the overnight assistance,” Johnston added. “If it’s really, really cold, we put them in a hotel for a night or two until they can get the services they need.”

The reality of not having an appropriate place, combined with the mental health challenges of many who stayed there, became too much for organizers.

“It’s best to focus on one or two issues and do them really well, rather than try to solve all the community’s problems,” Johnston added. “That’s the sad reality. But, we thank the community at large, especially St. Anastasia and St. Stephens churches, who provided what they did for the last few years and what they continue to do to support our other programs.”

- Nancy Kriz
“We tried but we realized it’s a hard, cold fact that you cannot always do what’s needed. Sure, we were disappointed. We were trying to offer a service and help people, but when I found bottles of vodka under the Virgin Mary’s statue, and cigarette butts on wooden pews built in the 1800s - to think the place could have gone up on flames - we had to take everything into consideration and make the hard decision.”
Sacred Heart Outreach Program Director Betsy Johnston




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