SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – In an effort to help Springfield’s homeless population during the winter, one church has converted itself into an emergency homeless shelter for entire families.
Connecting Grounds Church at 4341 W. Chestnut Expressway switches solely to online services from Nov. 1 to March 31 while volunteers from all walks of life transform the church and keep up with serving the homeless.
“Because of the need and the fact that we have the space to take care of people and give people a safe place to be at night, we made a decision that space needed to be available to those families in the evening hours all of the time, and not just six days a week when we had service,” Family Connection Director Holly Madden told The Heartlander.
Madden says there are a handful of shelters in Springfield that serve entire families in need, but they are not easily accessible for overnight stays seven days a week like Connecting Grounds. Most shelters can only be accessed during regular business hours, Madden said, which can complicate things if a family loses its only shelter in the middle of the night or after hours on a Friday evening.
Many of Springfield’s homeless shelters operate at constant full capacity, especially domestic abuse shelters. According to Connecting Grounds, its shelter is designed to work with all other shelters in the region, and is readily available to help families navigate their next move. The shelter says they would rather keep families together rather than seeing children removed and placed into foster care situations.
The shelter currently faces a small capacity and can only house about 20 individuals at a time, which is usually about four families per night, Madden said. Because of this, Connecting Grounds is encouraging larger churches to follow its lead in helping the homeless stay warm during winter.
Madden says her church’s “life verse” comes from Matthew Chapter 25 to remind others to feed the hungry and care for the sick.
“Church is not supposed to be services with lights and fog machines, it is supposed to be the hands and feet that love on people and provide shelter,” she said. “God is in everything that we do. He’s in our street outreach, loving on people in really scary places when they don’t have somewhere to go when they are on the street trying to get a good night’s sleep. He’s in our family connection program when we are loving on families, working towards reunification.”
Madden says the shelter will do whatever it takes to find a safe place for homeless families, even if the building is already at full capacity.
“Bottom line is, if we have a family show up and we are at capacity, we will do whatever it takes. We’ve got a few creative solutions. There is no way we are going to turn a family away who do not have a place to go.”
The community response has exceeded expectations, she said. Meals have been donated every night and Madden has seen an influx of Amazon boxes full of items such as hot chocolate, apple sauce and activities for kids.
Connecting Grounds recently applied for ARPA funds and was selected by the Springfield City Council to receive the funding, but an official vote will not come until Monday.
“We recognized we needed to start earlier than that, because the cold weather season (officially) hit on Nov. 1st,” Madden said.