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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter provides homeless refuge from elements

Over two dozen Davis homeless welcomed into 10 rotating church locations from December to March

On Monday, Jan. 20, homeless guests were welcomed into the Davis Christian Assembly as part of the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS). 

The IRWS is a volunteer organization that provides the homeless population of Davis with two daily meals and a place to sleep in 10 churches from December to March. Each church can host up to 25 guests at a time for one to two weeks. 

Pastor Jonathan Zachariou of Davis Christian Assembly described the significance of the program. 

“When you work with these guests, it’s sobering to figure out that they live outside,” Zachariou said. “It’s really taxing to live without shelter. It works against you physically and then it seeps into your mental capacity. It’s exhausting.”

Each day, the program provides guests with a cot and clean sleeping bag, a hot dinner and a bagged lunch. A free, volunteer-based laundry service is also offered that collects dirty laundry and returns the clean clothes after two to three days. 

Along with these services, some locations also prepare entertainment for their guests. The Davis Christian Assembly often plays movies — it showed Men in Black: International on Monday night. Zachariou commented on the importance of entertainment. 

“We know it’s still a big environment and it’s a program, but we try to make it as homely feeling as possible,” Zachariou said. “We tell them every night that we want them to relax and feel like they’re at home.”

Two student volunteers from UC Davis were present during check-in. Both students are third-year psychology majors who heard about the program through one of their psychology classes. Charlotte Metcalf, one of the student volunteers, was already interested in social work before her involvement in the internship.

“I had been looking for something related to social work and homelessness because I’ve always been drawn to it,” Metcalf said. “It’s been really nice to get some hands-on experience, and I feel like this program really does throw us into this, which is what I need. I love it.”

The other student, Yuliana Virrueta, did not have a prior interest in social work before joining the program. Instead, she was trying to find a way to become involved in the City of Davis.

“I had been looking for something to do in the community here since I wasn’t really familiar,” Virrueta said. “I’ve done a lot of community service before, and it’s nice to do something here.”

When asked about her comfort levels during the program, Virrueta said that she acclimated to the new environment after a few shifts. 

“Over time, you start to get more comfortable — you get to know the people, so it becomes normal,” Virrueta said.

Metcalf agreed and added to Virrueta’s comment. 

“You learn to deal with certain people in certain ways,” Metcalf said. “Just the way they would prefer to handle certain things. You might not know in the beginning, and it might upset certain guests, but you learn ways around it — it ends up working out for both sides.”

The two students have volunteered with the rotating shelter for the past three weeks. Before going onsite, they completed a mandatory training program about mental health issues and ways to defuse stressful situations. 

Student volunteers complete an array of tasks, including checking in guests, supervising overnight and distributing equipment. Any interested students should visit the Interfaith Shelter’s website for more information as well as contact the program’s administration.

As more guests filed in and helped themselves to bags of chips and bread rolls, Zachariou surveyed the scene and explained his thoughts on the importance of the program. The program is not meant to solve the homeless crisis in California, but Zachariou described how it helps as many local people as possible during the harshest months of the year. 

“The key to volunteerism is to make a difference for one person,” Zachariou said. 

Written by: Eden Winniford –– city@theaggie.org


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