Due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the night shelter at Emmanuel Bethel Church, located near Woodward Avenue and Normandy Road, can accommodate a maximum of 30 guests. The rotating shelter includes nine churches and runs through February. More volunteers are needed to be overnight hosts and to clean.

Due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the night shelter at Emmanuel Bethel Church, located near Woodward Avenue and Normandy Road, can accommodate a maximum of 30 guests. The rotating shelter includes nine churches and runs through February. More volunteers are needed to be overnight hosts and to clean.

Photo provided by Nate Sjogren

Royal Oak night shelter opens and seeks more volunteers

Rotating shelter will run through Feb. 28

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published December 17, 2020


ROYAL OAK — Public and private entities throughout Oakland County have been working together to solve the problem of providing a winter night shelter to the homeless population during a global pandemic. The rotating night shelter program, established in 1993, initially was canceled this year due to COVID-19.

On Dec. 14, Emmanuel Bethel Church, located near Woodward Avenue and Normandy Road in Royal Oak, welcomed its first eight guests on the first night of the rotating shelter program. Due to COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maximum capacity is limited to 30 guests per night.

Carl Taylor, the ruling elder, or president, of Emmanuel Bethel Church, said, “God really provided in a way we didn’t expect.”

While the church was prepared for 30 guests, Taylor said he was glad for the eight because it gave volunteers the opportunity to start small and work out any potential kinks. The volunteers included police officers who helped tweak security cameras, and medical professionals who taught others how to properly clean.

“Usually it starts off very slow. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. (By the end of the week, it grows) to around 45-50; however, we have a part of the program that requires people to be COVID tested,” Taylor said. “We’re really nervous that we’ll have to turn people away.”

He said that choosing who gets in and who is turned away is a quandary that keeps him awake at night. Because Woodward Avenue is a transportation corridor, Oakland County has a sizable homeless population, he said.

In past years, he said, the shelter has attracted upward of 100 guests per night.

“I imagine by the end of the week, we’ll be at full capacity,” Taylor said.

Emmanuel Bethel Church will offer shelter through the night of Dec. 26. Taylor said current needs include volunteers to serve as overnight hosts and to clean — they have a sanitation fogger and, because they forewent portable showers this year, the duties would include the other elements of the bathrooms and frequently touched surfaces throughout the evening.

To volunteer, visit emmanuelbethel.org and select “Warming Center Sign-Up.” For questions, call Bob Scales at (248) 765-0164. The next church in the rotation is Renaissance Vineyard Church in Ferndale. For more information, visit renvc.com or call (248) 545-4664.

Temperatures will be recorded upon arrival, and all volunteers must follow personal protective equipment practices at all times. PPE will be provided. Because volunteer numbers are limited to reduce risks, volunteers must be at least 18 years old. Unannounced or unscheduled volunteers are not allowed.

Participating churches in the program include Emmanuel Bethel Church, Starr Presbyterian Church, Genesis the Church, National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica Catholic Church and Woodside Bible Church in Royal Oak; Cana Evangelical Lutheran Church and Berkley Community Church in Berkley; Renaissance Vineyard Church in Ferndale; and Kensington Church in Birmingham.

While the rotating shelter provides a night option, the Welcome Inn Day Center, located within Starr Presbyterian Church, near 13 Mile and Crooks roads in Royal Oak, and operated by South Oakland Citizens for the Homeless, offers a place to go during the day, as well as clothing, food, hygiene care and support services.

Pastor Nate Sjogren, of Genesis the Church in Royal Oak, said the Oakland County Health Department and its COVID-19 task force established protocols to ensure guests and volunteers are as safe as possible.

“Our goal is to create a ‘bubble’ for our guests, with 24/7 care for 10 weeks. Guests will spend their days at the Welcome Inn, where they wear masks, are temperature checked three times a day, and receive a Covid test once a week,” he wrote in an email to C & G Newspapers.

The guests then take the Welcome Inn bus to the overnight locations — they must register at the Welcome Inn to participate in the night shelter, he said.

“Limiting your exposure to others and having a negative Covid test prior to volunteering is strongly encouraged. Oakland County has four free drive-up testing sites where you do not need to have exposure or symptoms to get tested. (But you do need to call ahead to make an appointment),” Sjogren wrote. “There will also be a testing opportunity at the Welcome Inn in Royal Oak once a week.”

In addition to the rotating night shelter, the Alliance for Housing, Oakland County’s Continuum of Care, is working to end homelessness and increase the supply of sustainable and affordable housing.

The alliance, formerly the Oakland County Task Force on Homelessness and Poverty, includes emergency and warming shelters, health care providers, housing developers and programs, municipalities, governmental agencies, food programs, faith-based groups and more.

Elizabeth Kelly, CEO of HOPE (Helping Oakland’s People Everyday) Hospitality & Warming Center in Pontiac, estimated that each night in Oakland County, there are between 350 and 500 people who are homeless and about 150 shelter beds.

The top two factors that lead to homelessness, she said, are mental health and poverty.

“Substance use is one of the things that people associate with homelessness, but I actually think it’s more of a reaction to the stress of being homeless as opposed to being a driver, although for some people it can be,” Kelly said.

Alliance for Housing Executive Director Leah McCall said “you would be surprised” by some of the individuals who used to work for the “Big Three or have lucrative, if you would call it that, degrees and jobs, and end up in a homeless situation.”

The group anticipates that a shortage of affordable housing in the county and the Dec. 31, 2020, expiration of the CDC’s moratorium on eviction will potentially swell the numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Sjogren said the Alliance for Housing collaboration offers individuals “a really easy on-ramp” for anyone wanting to serve the vulnerable homeless population.

Visit www.oaklandhomeless.org for more information.

To sign up to get or give help, visit www.mycovidresponse.org or call (248) 600-9541.

Donations of coats and boots can be dropped off anytime on the porch of the HOPE Hospitality & Warming Center, located at 155 W. Rundell St. in Pontiac.

Staff Writer Mark Vest contributed to this report.