Hospitality for homeless overflows on holiday

Program at local church provides full day of shelter, Christmas meal

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Cheryl Harvey was chipper as can be during Christmas dinner. It didn’t seem to disappoint her that she’d hoped to bring cherry pie and whipped cream, but all she could afford in the end was a jar of kosher dill pickles.

Those dills were snappy and delicious all day long, and Harvey loved watching her friends munch them, as appetizers, as they got ready to feast.

Harvey is from Portland, but these days she and her husband are living on the floor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Orchards. St. Andrew is one of two local Lutheran churches that offer up their floors for homeless folks who can’t find a bed at any of the permanent homeless shelters in the area. The other one is St. Paul, in downtown Vancouver. St. Andrew has 50 bed spaces that are intended for women and families; St. Paul has 24 beds for single men.

Normally, the Winter Hospitality Overflow program requires overnight guests to rise at 6:45 a.m. and hit the road by 8 a.m. But on Christmas Day, St. Andrew’s doors were open to the homeless all day long.

Oddly enough, not a lot of folks hung around for the day. There were only about a dozen enjoying Christmas dinner when The Columbian stopped by at 4:30 p.m.

Maybe that’s because of the mild weather and dollop of afternoon sunshine, volunteer Andrea

Buchmann theorized. And maybe it was because, this one day of the year, some of these homeless folks had someplace to go — someplace they belonged.

“There are families who don’t speak to this one person all year. There are people who don’t go home to their families all year. This is the one day that maybe they see one another,” Buchmann said.

Kevin Hiebert, coordinator of the Winter Hospitality Overflow program, said a volunteer dressed up as Santa Claus and delighted the children on Christmas Eve; more volunteers also scurried around overnight to place little gifts at the foot of each bedroll in the St. Andrew gymnasium — so everybody woke up to the equivalent of a Christmas morning stocking.

Then they had the day to relax in the warm indoors, if they so chose. And there was the meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, salad and more — all contributed by volunteers, staff and the residents themselves.

“They are very understanding and very nice,” Harvey said of the folks who run the Winter Hospitality Overflow program. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be living on the street.”

And what did Harvey do with her long, leisurely Christmas Day at St. Andrew? Stripped sheets and made up clean bedrolls.

“I didn’t just want to sit around here all day and do nothing,” she said with a smile.