Our church has hosted an emergency women's shelter since December 15th, giving up to 20 women a place to stay each night from 7 pm until 7 am. It has been a joy and a blessing for our church and for our volunteers. I think that for the core women who have been there from the start, our church's multi-purpose space has really become a home. And yet there have been challenges that have really been discouraging. We have had women who were simply unwilling to follow the simple rules of the shelter; women who have accused us of racism and favoritism or questioned whether we really were Christian because we enforced the rules; women who have been asked to leave for a few days, allowed back, and then asked to leave again. And it's just confusing as to what is the best way in each situation.
We are an emergency shelter, trying to keep women from being cold and in danger, but we also desire that they feel like they have a home and a community to come to each night. In order to have a home and a community, there need to be rules and expectations of how we treat one another and consequences for when that doesn't happen; it works the same way in my own house. Yet the desire to provide shelter and the desire to see transformation (which is aided by the power of consistency and community) often seem in tension. I ask myself, "How can we turn anyone away from our shelter if we have space for them, just because they are unruly or refuse to cooperate?" Then I see the effects of the uncooperative on the women who really have taken ownership of our space and do consider it a home, and I realize that there is a bigger picture, a community that is affected and needs to be protected.
I also see a mom and a daughter have to leave our shelter because the mom refused to comply with our rules, and now I know that they are just bouncing around from house to house, and my heart breaks for the little girl. We found out this week that one of our residents that we asked to leave (because she was medically unstable, beyond our ability to safely help, and because she was abusing heavy narcotics) died of an overdose at a rehab facility. And in six weeks, our shelter will close, and I don't know that all of our women will have a place to go. I stand by my opening statement that this shelter has been a wonderful experience, and I think that our city and our church are different because of it, but it's not as simple as that. There has been a cost and the road has not been smooth, and I am certain we have made mistakes in this process. But our hope is in Christ, and our job is to be faithful and trust Him with the results. And I believe that beneath the surface, the Kingdom of God is advancing one small step at a time.