ESCANABA - Rotating emergency shelter program "Hope at the Inn" draws to a close for the winter season in April, though organizers say the program has been quite successful in just its first year.
According to Deb Trombly, "Hope at the Inn" steering committee and executive board member, the mission for the program is two-fold.
"Hope at the Inn" is designed to provide a safe emergency shelter to the homeless, but also to link these individuals to professional services in the community that can help them live independently.
Trombly noted the steering committee for the program began in February 2013, with Escanaba Salvation Army Maj. Ralph Hansen the driving force in its development. The program is designed after Marquette's "Room at the Inn," now in its seventh year.
In fact, organizers of the Marquette program have served as mentors to getting "Hope at the Inn" up and running locally.
The program officially opened its doors to serve the area homeless on Dec. 1, 2013.
Through "Hope at the Inn," seven host facilities have volunteered to house homeless individuals over a week-long period on a rotating schedule.
These host facilities are the Escanaba Salvation Army, six churches, including Christ the King Lutheran, First Presbyterian, First United Methodist, and Immanuel Lutheran in Escanaba, and All Saints Catholic and Memorial United Methodist in Gladstone.
"Every church does have some lead coordinators and they're expected to attend monthly meetings," said Trombly. "They're the ones overseeing the volunteers for each parish."
Several additional churches are supporting the program in other ways - through providing volunteers, transportation or meals.
"We have almost 400 trained volunteers in our database and sometimes we're accepting those that aren't trained, as long as they're teamed up with someone who is, so we have a good, good supply of volunteers," she said.
Guests at the shelter are provided two meals per day, personal hygiene kits and transportation. All guests must be 18 years or older, undergo a personal search, breathalyzer test, and criminal background check. "Hope at the Inn" does not take in families as guests. Instead families or single adults with children will continue to be housed in area hotels and motels.
Trombly said typically guests are taken in between 6 and 9 p.m. each night, and provided dinner that evening and breakfast the following morning. They then must leave the church by 8 a.m. following breakfast.
Volunteers, on the whole, must also be 18 or older, though individuals younger than this may help prepare meals or move shelter supplies when the shelter rotates to the next parish.
Trombly has been tracking how many guests "Hope at the Inn" has served since its inception. Just recently, the program logged its 200th "bed night," based on a weekly tally of guest numbers that the host facilities provide.
"We've been averaging maybe three or four guests a night," said Trombly. "We might have six one night, might have two another, every night's different. We do have some regulars and we have had folks who really have been there for just one night."
She said it is difficult to measure what impact this year's cold winter has had on driving homeless individuals to use the "Hope at the Inn" program, but she believes it likely played a factor.
"It's hard for us to know, but we're glad, especially with this harsh winter, that we do have this option to offer our community because even just being in your car isn't going to work this year," she said.
The final day this season for "Hope at the Inn" will be April 26 before it starts up again in the fall.
The steering committee will meet this summer to determine the exact start date next season and to discuss what can be done to improve "Hope at the Inn" moving forward.
However, Trombly noted it has been great working with the churches and executive and steering committees to make "Hope at the Inn" possible.
"The churches are very pleased to be participating," she said. "Everyone wants to help and join in some way."
Trombly said the "Hope at the Inn" executive committee, comprised of herself, Maj. Hansen, Roger Good, and Cheryl Goc, are hoping to recruit two or three more churches to serve as host sites next season. For more information on how to get involved, contact Maj. Hansen at the Salvation Army at 786-0590 or visit the "Hope at the Inn" website at www.hopeattheinn.org.