By Ryan McGinnis
Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada opened a warming shelter in downtown Reno to help protect and feed the local homeless population during the morning hours, when temperatures run low. It is located inside St. Vincent’s Dining Room on 325 Valley Road and will remain in operation until March.
The motivation behind the warming shelter program began when city officials reached out to Catholic Charities to solve a problem: how can we protect the homeless population in the early morning hours when they are exposed to freezing temperatures, hypothermia and snow, and the overflow facilities are not yet open?
The answer led to a partnership between the City, Catholic Charities and a run of other local sponsors to open a facility that could provide a warm meal, coffee, and, most importantly, a roof over the area’s homeless trying to get a start to their day.
“Last spring we opened the Warming Center as a pilot program and on the first day over 400 individuals entered through our doors seeking a warm place to start their day,” Catholic Charities’ CEO Marie Baxter said. “One of our guests commented that the most dangerous time of day to be homeless is between 5 a.m. and when the sun rises. It was in that moment that we made the commitment to make the Warming Center a regular part of our services to help those in need,” she said.
You meet so many loving, giving people…that’s the positivity that brings you back.”
A community feeling, a family feeling
On Nov. 15 there was a congregation of around two dozen homeless individuals in the Warming Center. Many had on multiple layers of clothes and carried a single suitcase or even a garbage bag to carry their possessions. Volunteers behind the cafeteria line served oatmeal, croissants and hot coffee and there was a cheerful mood as many of the volunteers had a rapport with returning patrons.
Facilities like this one are overwhelmingly important, according to Jennifer Hill, the chief development officer for Catholic Charities. “It gives homeless people consistency; it gives them a chance to know how they will start their day,” she said.
And much like the homeless people who call this place home for a few hours every day, the facility gives volunteers a steady place to give back.
Hank Dever is a light-hearted older gentleman who has been volunteering for a number of local charities for 13 years.
“You meet so many loving, giving people…that’s the positivity that brings you back,” he said in a short exchange last Friday. At the warming shelter he serves food to the homeless and helps with the rudimentary tasks of keeping the facility going.
However, arguably his most important task is interacting with those he wishes to help. He described one memory of when a regularly returning patron got a job and notified the volunteers that he would no longer have to come back to the warming facility. “Everyone started clapping,” he said. “We felt that we saved another.”
These relationships strengthen the bond between the charity and the people they serve, according to Hill. “It makes [the warming center] feel more like a community, more like a family,” Hill said. “It’s one thing to hear about homelessness, it’s another to see it.”
Donations to the warming center help provide paper goods and hot breakfasts for the homeless. These, along with the efforts of volunteers, allow the warming shelter to be an inviting place for those less fortunate this winter.
To make a monetary donation to help support the St. Vincent’s Dining Room programs at Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada, visit https://ccsnn.org/pages/ways-to-donate
Contact Lisa Ross at [email protected] to volunteer.