Eventually the volunteers decided to start small. Beginning on November 16, the church will be hosting five families in a car camp in the church parking lot. Here's some of what we know so far:
- Families will be referred by the homeless advocate for the local school district, so each resident family will have at least one student attending school in the district.
- Everyone over 13 will have a background check - both volunteers and campers.
- Families will arrive between 8:30 and 9:15 in the evening and will leave between 6:00 and 9:15 in the morning.
- No alcohol or drugs can be used in the camp.
- A porta-potty will be available.
- A cellphone charging area will be provided.
- A church volunteer will have a 24/7 phone available for campers to call as needs arise.
- One day a week (to start) campers will have morning access to a shower inside the church. The number of shower days will increase as more volunteers sign up for the early morning shift.
- Volunteers will welcome campers in the evenings, supervise showers in the mornings, and wash towels. Volunteers get to sign up for what they want to do and how often.
- If temperatures drop below 34 degrees, a cold weather shelter opens in town. On those nights, the car camp will be closed. We want the families to go to the cold weather shelter because that facility will provide them with a hot meal in the evening, breakfast, and a sack lunch. Our church community is responsible for the cold weather shelter on Mondays.
- Volunteers have become familiar with the "companionship" model. No counseling or professional services will be offered, though an information sheet will be provided for each family.
- After 90 days of residence, a family has to reapply to the car camp. The intention is that camping will be a temporary situation for the families.
The team organizing this project called an information meeting this week, and I'd say more than 50 people showed up. Team members acknowledged we're kind of making it up as we go - flexibility has to be the key even while we comply with the law.
I'm one of two volunteer coordinators, making sure we have signups for each available position, and calling or emailing volunteers to remind them of their time slots. I'll be in Tucson for the winter, but this is something I can do no matter where I live. I'm glad to be able to participate in this project.
The team says we are the only church in our county to try this, and that others are watching. If we're successful, we may be the first of many to provide this help to the homeless.