Oak Park Pentecostals planning a community services center

A Richmond church has volunteered to serve as a warming center for the rest of this winter and is laying groundwork for a community services center.

During a Feb. 7 meeting of a group that has been working on establishing emergency warming centers, Oak Park Pentecostals said its facilities are available for use as an emergency warming center. Executive Pastor Jesse Arthur also said the church is in the process of developing a longer-term plan that would include a shelter plus a service center for other community organizations.

The group agreed that the church’s offer is the best option for this season. The group will work to recruit volunteers to staff the shelter and bring people to it, said Carl Rhinehart, who now is the group’s leader.

The church at 1920 Chester Blvd. has a commercial kitchen as well as separate shower facilities for men and women, Arthur said.

The warming shelter group has developed policies and procedures for operating a warming shelter. It is also actively recruiting volunteers.

The church joined the group at Rhinehart’s invitation, Arthur said, becoming interested when they learned that families without heat had been forced to stay in cars during severe cold.

“Our heart is really with these families,” Arthur said, “but we want to help anyone in the community who needs it.”

The church is hopeful that it can develop a separate charitable organization that would have a large location in downtown Richmond. It is developing applications for about $7 million in federal money to establish the charity and set up a location. Arthur said the groundwork will take at least a year to complete.

The warming center group came together just after Christmas 2022 when volunteers realized there was no plan for emergency warming shelters for people experiencing homelessness. The group had been able to offer emergency warming during a cold snap in late January. That was downtown at Unveiled Church, staffed by volunteers, with cots and furnishings provided by the local American Red Cross chapter and other groups.

However, during another cold snap a week later, that church was not available. The warming center group decided that it could not offer shelter during that period.

During both cold spells, Richmond’s two shelters for people without stable housing made space available temporarily.

The local office of a federally funded community action program agreed to provide $1,500 to pay for rooms in motels for people without other shelter, said Mary Anne Butters, a Wayne County commissioner. Volunteers took several people experiencing homelessness, including families, to local motels.

Rhinehart said the process of planning for an emergency warming center has opened his eyes to many community needs. One of them is that many local organizations are short on volunteers.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if, in this process of recruiting volunteers for the warming center, we help community organizations get more volunteers for their own activities?” Rhinehart asked.

People wishing to volunteer for the warming center may sign up online at https://forms.office.com/r/tzCacJDAcX.

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.