Those who come across someone who is homeless, at whatever time of day, are seen as potential partners by Interfaith Action, said Joey Rodger, a member of the Evanston organization’s board. In partnership with 40 faith communities from across Evanston, Interfaith Action operates winter warming centers and an emergency overnight shelter, which rotates between the facilities of the different faith communities. It also serves 36,500 meals in a year from different soup kitchen locations and runs a hospitality center for the homeless five mornings a week at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge Ave.

“At eight at night when you’re leaving a restaurant and it’s very cold, someone approaches you. You can ask, ‘Do you have a warm safe place to sleep tonight?’ And then tell them, ‘Here’s a number you can call to find a place in Evanston tonight,’” said Ms. Rodger. She explained that the number to share, 847-866-5000, is the one for the front desk at the Police Department and that the police always have the latest schedule for Interfaith Action shelters
and services.

“We want to get the word out to the community so that they can share it with the homeless and hungry people they meet along the way this year.” She added that members of the Police Department are willing and helpful agents.

“If you don’t feel comfortable approaching the person you encounter, you can call the police and they police will check on them and get them to a shelter,” Ms. Rodger said. “One police officer pushed a person in a wheelchair through three inches of snow all the way to one of our shelters.”

Ms. Rodger said on very cold days people living in homelessness can begin their day at the morning hospitality center at St. Mark’s. There they can nap, have breakfast and work on computer skills. Then at 11 a.m., when the hospitality center closes, they can go to Second Baptist Church, 1717 Benson Ave., for lunch and then to Bethany Baptist Church, 1225 Elmwood Ave., or, on Tuesday, to Hemenway United Methodist Church, 933 Chicago Ave., for supper.

Later they can overnight at an emergency shelter, which is open between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Ms. Rodger who, in addition to being a board member for Interfaith Action is a chaplain for the Evanston Police Department, makes sure that all patrol officers have a current copy of the Interfaith Action schedule and details.

“One of the officers told me last summer that he had had to tell a young homeless man to move along and didn’t have any place to send him,” said Ms. Rodger. “We’ve been able to link things up. We call their [the police’s] central desk and tell them where the shelter will be. Then the officer that finds someone under a stair can call back to the station and get a location for overnight.”

Six congregations participate in the shelter program, each operating the shelter for two weeks before it moves to the next congregation. Ms. Rodger acknowledged that it makes things confusing that there is no single place for a person to go and said that they’ve been working on ways to simplify communications, so that no one has trouble understanding where the shelter is currently operating.

Interfaith Action relies heavily on volunteers to operate the overnight shelters. There is only one paid staff member that is at the shelter for the night, but he or she works alongside volunteers who stay all night and support the manager. Ms. Rodger said in the morning another group of volunteers comes to straighten up the church or synagogue so that it can be used by the congregation without worry about cleaning up that day.

Currently the overnight shelter is available when temperatures dip to 20 degrees, but Ms. Rodger said, “We are committed as a board to raising funds necessary to have it be open every night from the first of December or earlier through February or March if it is cold.”

She also said that the death of Daisy Major, who was murdered outside First Methodist Church last month, has caused Interfaith Action to think about the safety aspect of what they provide. She said that the church that is hosting the shelter in mid-December has found the resources to operate the shelter for all the nights it is responsible regardless of the temperature. “I think that Daisy’s death revealed to many that it isn’t just about warmth. It’s about safety,” said Ms. Rodger. “The church decided that, ‘our two weeks nobody is sleeping outside.’”

Ned Schaub

Ned Schaub is a feature story writer for the RoundTable. He has served as reporter, content developer and communications manager across his career in the field of nonprofit communications. Ned studied...