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Shelter network seeks volunteers as winter approaches

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By Deborah Swearingen

As winter fast approaches, the Severe Weather Shelter Network is searching for volunteers to help with its sheltering program.

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The network, headed by Lynn Ann Huizingh of Littleton, partners with churches and other community agencies to provide shelter on cold nights for those who are homeless. It was formed out of the Severe Weather Collaboration in the summer of 2012. The collaboration is one of the seven subcommittees of the Heading Home Collaboration in Jefferson County, which addresses the needs of families and individuals experiencing homelessness on life-threatening winter nights.

Without volunteers, it would be impossible for the organization to function. Volunteers drive shelter guests from warming sites to host church sites. They staff host sites and warming sites, providing food, company and a watchful eye. They also help answer phones and develop lists of shelter guests each night.

“We’re a completely volunteer-run organization,” said Tracy Thayer, volunteer discipleship coordinator and one of the few part-time employees.

“It continues to just blow my mind the amount of people that have come forward and are willing to give their time and energy to just sit down and eat a meal and visit,” she added. “That’s the whole ministry almost.”

The network operates in the Littleton area, called the south rotation, and the Lakewood area, called the central rotation. Sheltering is set to begin in Arvada at the beginning of December.

There are volunteer opportunities for people with various time capabilities. Host-site volunteers stay overnight but aren’t required to stay awake the whole time, while drivers, administrative volunteers and warming site volunteers generally are asked to give a few hours at a time.

Warming-site volunteers are needed in all rotations, and the central rotation is in need of a warming-site location. The warming site is a space for shelter guests to gather, spend time together and wait for transportation to the host site.

“The warming site is a really important part of the Severe Weather Shelter in that it gives our guests a place to gather safely while they wait for transportation. It gives them a place to be inside and out of the cold,” Huizingh said.

Volunteering and ultimately working for the shelter network was an eye-opening experience for Thayer, who has been a part of the group since its inception.

“It’s increasingly important that we know in the community of Jefferson County that we do have a homeless population, that we have families and individuals living on the street,” she said. “Before my eyes were opened to that, I didn’t see it.”

And she believes that anyone who spends time volunteering with the shelter will be compelled to be a part of it.

“Mainly because it’s people,” she said. “It’s people that are struggling. And you know what, we all struggle in different ways in our life.”