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Davis, California

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Giving thanks by helping the homeless


Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter to open after Thanksgiving

Davis’s annual Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS) is gearing up to open on Nov. 26, the Sunday following Thanksgiving. Every year, the shelter opens its doors to Davis residents who might need shelter for the night, particularly members of the homeless population, who may not have any other place to go.

“It’s always good when people of different faiths and backgrounds come together to work towards a common goal,” said Shoshana Zatz, a shelter facilitator for Congregation Bet Haverim. “It benefits us because we are doing the good work through this shelter […] also, I find it’s really helpful to have the kids, as well as adults, members of the congregation, interact with the guests. It dispels a lot of the fear and distrust of them comes from not knowing, not having interacted with these homeless people.”

The shelter emphasized that their goal is not to fix their lodgers, but to serve them in any way they can. Sleeping outside poses a health hazard to those who don’t have any place to go for the night. Rain and bitingly cold weather are problems homeless people face at all times of the year in Davis, but winter nights magnify these uncomfortable conditions. The shelter seeks to serve Davis’ homeless population by giving them a short respite from sleeping on the streets.

“We have 10 congregations that host the guests in the 15-week season,” said Mary Anne Kirsch, a member of St. James Catholic Church and one of the founders of the IRWS. “Some of the congregations host for two or three weeks, and some for one week. It goes around the city […] Last year we served about 2,000 meals and provided about 2,000 shelter spots during the 13 weeks, and that served about 124 individuals, because a lot of them come back for multiple nights.”

Kirsch also stressed that the shelter doesn’t consider sobriety or cleanliness when accepting guests. The shelter takes in potential residents at an intake center on D Street, separate from whichever church or congregation is hosting the shelter. There’s a short screening process where volunteers record some information about the guests and ensure that they will be respectful. Those who have completed the screening process before go through a shortened process. After passing the screen test, volunteers then drive the visitors to whichever church or congregation is hosting the guests for the week. There, patrons are given warm food and shelter provided by members of that church.

“There’s a lot of involvement — a lot of people in the community who care about this service,” said Michael Coleman, who supervises the high school interns involved in the program.

The shelter employs both high school and college interns and volunteers to intake and host its patrons. The intern application process for the shelter is closed for this year, but those interested can apply to the program next year.

“The spirit of the program is to provide a bridge between those with shelter and those without,” according to the shelter’s website. “We want to provide shelter in the physical, emotional and spiritual sense of the word.”

The Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter will be up and running from Nov. 26 to Mar. 11. Hundreds of volunteers work at the shelter to take in, drive, feed and house guests over the four months it will be running. To find out more about the shelter, readers can visit its website, and potential volunteers can visit the IRWS’s online sign-up site to learn about the various volunteer roles the shelter needs to fill.


Written by: Ahash Francis — city@theaggie.org


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