Safe Harbor in need of overnight volunteers

MANISTEE COUNTY — Love INC’s Safe Harbor program has opened doors to the area’s homeless, providing meals and shelter to individuals and families at rotating host sites during the coldest months of the year, every year, since 2009.

Its success, however, has always been dependent on volunteers. But just a month into this season’s installment, organizers are making a call for more help.

“We have not had to shut our doors yet, but we are running very low on volunteers,” said Lisa Clarke, Love INC’s Family Services director. “Every night has been hit or miss so far, and we expect even more guests to need shelter as the weather gets colder.”

The rotating shelter program runs every night through the winter from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Volunteer gatekeepers and overnight staff are necessary.

“We are looking, particularly, for more overnight volunteers, male and female,” Clarke explained. “They would stay from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. They are allowed to sleep if they work in shifts with one another and we’ll feed them when they come in if they’d like.”

Those interested in volunteering are asked to contact Clarke at (231) 723-6613 or visit the local Love INC office, located at 390 River St., Suite 103.

“All they have to do is come into our office, fill out an application, and we’ll do a quick interview and background check go over their duties with them.

“Really, their duties are to keep the place safe, wake up the guests in the morning, make sure coffee is ready to go, and lock down when they leave. It’s not a difficult job.”

Safe Harbor began on Nov. 4 and is scheduled to be held at various locations (in week-long increments) through March. For each night of Safe Harbor, check-in is from 6-8 p.m. while guests must check out by 8 the following morning. Dinner and breakfast is provided.

Clarke said two female and one male overnight volunteer each night is preferable.

“Really, the more the better,” she said. “We have our regular (volunteers), but we of course are encouraging new volunteers to join as not to burn out the ones who have been coming.

“We have had to close our doors (due to lack of volunteers) in the past,” she said, “but you have to wonder if it was your mother, your sister, your brother, your child or you out in the cold, we’d want those doors to be open.”

Clarke said Safe Harbor has always been much more than a place to stay for the night.

“When we have a guest come in, we provide a meal and a place to sleep, but we also try to identify their barriers to stable housing,” she explained. “We find things like unemployment, addiction or abusive situations in their current living arrangement. Some have jobs and income, but not the documentation they need to rent a place.

“We don’t provide money or anything, but we work with them to build a bridge or a path — connect them with the right people or agencies — to help them toward stable, permanent housing.”

Clarke said the program has had a high success rate in that pursuit.

“Last year, we served 34 individuals and more than 70 percent of our guests were able to find permanent housing by the end of the season,” she said. “Through the years, a lot of our guests have come back as volunteers, because they want to give back.”

And giving is the essence of Safe Harbor in the first place.

“As human beings — no matter if it’s based on religion or not — we truthfully should have a concern for our fellow man,” Clarke said. “Period.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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