‘Hope At the Inn’ — New program for homeless ready to launch

ESCANABA – It was eight years in the making, but the planning and preparation is about to pay off. A new program, “Hope At the Inn,” is set to be launched on Monday, Nov. 4.

Patterned after the program, “Room At the Inn,” in Marquette, the purpose of the “Hope” program is to provide support for homeless individuals by offering them a safe shelter in cooperating churches throughout the area.

According to Major Ralph Hansen of the Escanaba Salvation Army, five churches, including Christ the King Lutheran, Immanuel Lutheran, First Presbyterian, and First United Methodist in Escanaba, and Memorial United Methodist in Gladstone, have offered their facilities on a rotating weekly basis to house the individuals overnight. Churches offering volunteer support are Grace Church, All Saints Catholic, and First Lutheran, all in Gladstone.

The prerequisite for a church to be included is that they must have sufficient space and restrooms to accommodate as many as eight to 10 individuals and have separate areas for both men and women. They must also be willing to provide an evening meal each night the guests are there. Most of the churches also provide a common area with a television or space for visiting.

“We still could use two more host churches,” Hansen said. “But we would like to have three or four more churches help us with the program by providing some volunteers to work on one of the three four-hour shifts – preferably three volunteers per shift.” The shifts are from 6-10 p.m., 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and 2-6 a.m.

Between 6 and 9 a.m., Hansen said the guests will be taken to a warming center at the Salvation Army where they will be provided with a continental breakfast.

This program is only for single individuals. Families or single adults with children will continue to be housed in area hotels and motels.

Major Hansen said there is no limit to how many nights they can stay in the shelter church. Many of the homeless that are housed are transient and only in the area for a day or two.

“Others are down-on-their-luck,” Hansen said. “Some return to Escanaba after they left to get a job and were unsuccessful. As long as there is case-management work on a housing plan for them, and as long as they are working that plan, they are eligible to stay.”

If the guest knows he or she will be returning for a second night or more, two totes are made available for each of them so they won’t have to carry their belongings around with them throughout the day when they are not at the shelter facility.

While the guests are using the overnight facility, there are several rules and guidelines that are required.

– No alcohol, illegal drugs or open beverages allowed;

– All guests are searched and receive a breathalyzer upon entry;

– A background check will be conducted by the local police on wants/warrants and whether they are listed on a sex offender registry;

– Guests are responsible for their own belongings and are not allowed to handle another guest’s property without permission;

– Guests are to remain in the designated areas;

– Because all churches are non-smoking, guests are only permitted to smoke in a designated area outdoors;

– Guests must observe lights-out time;

– Each guest must leave no later than 6 a.m.

Major Hansen said these rules are posted at the entrance to each church so the prospective guests will know up front what is required and will have the opportunity to leave even before requesting entry if they are unwilling to comply to any of the guidelines.

If a guest is denied shelter for an infraction, an evaluation will be determined if he or she can be readmitted.

Shelter beds, bedding (if applicable), shelter materials, office supplies and totes are picked up each Sunday, cleaned and transported to the next church in the rotation to be ready for the next week’s guests.

Any guests who expects to remain in the program after the weekend will be allowed to keep their belongings in their tote for transfer to the next church in the rotation.

The ultimate goal of the program is to provide an opportunity for the guest to choose a path that could enable them to become self-sufficient and independent by finding or maintaining employment, finding housing, and saving funds toward those ends.