Each winter, the region's homeless are driven to find shelter away from freezing temperatures. But many of those shelters are full and can't find space for those in need.
Enter the Interfaith Cooperative Ministries organization, a group of congregations of faith in the New Haven region with a membership of nearly 20 churches and synagogues.
Now in its third year, the congregations provide week-long overnight shelter for a dozen homeless men selected through the supervising organization, Columbus House.
The program is named for an episode in the bible from Genesis 18 when the patriarch Abraham provides hospitality in his tent for three strangers.
“The key word there is hospitality,” said Stephen Peterson, a Columbus House volunteer helping to coordinate the effort.
Volunteers from the houses of worship provide services, food and overnight supervision, while Columbus House provides the sleeping cots and transportation.
Peterson said Abraham’s Tent frees up 12 beds at Columbus House so that more homeless people can receive help.
A Strong Support Network
Peterson said transportation requirements limit the locations to churches and synagogues close to Columbus House. The locations include houses of worship in New Haven, Branford, Hamden, North Haven and West Haven.
Rev. Scott Morrow of the North Haven Congregational Church said his church teams up with to pool their resources. St. John’s will provide the location during the week of Feb. 20-27, he said.
“It’s working out very well,” Morrow said. “The men are very appreciative and it’s a remarkable experience for our church members to meet them.”
He said the interaction shows the volunteers that homelessness can result from a variety of circumstances, such as unemployment, health crises, substance abuse and mental health problems.
“Given the current economy, most of the volunteers are more aware of those situations,” he noted.
Economic Realities Led to Program
Abraham’s Tent was organized when budget problems caused by the down economy nearly caused a shelter to close in New Haven. Each year it has been easier to find churches and volunteers to run the effort, Peterson of Columbus House said.
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Branford is scheduled to provide the location for Abraham’s Tent during the Jan. 9-16 week. Parish Council Chairperson Joan Pirtel said about 80 volunteers from the church are required for the week, to shop for food, prepare and serve meals, overnight supervision and companionship.
Pirtel said she is trying to get the Branford Chorus to stop by and entertain the homeless men one evening.
assists in the housing of men who stay at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden.