Churches raise voices for Winter Hospitality Overflow

Program provides shelter to homeless people

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



Nancy McGillis says the banjo is the happiest instrument in the world. So the energetically cheery McGillis is thrilled to enlist her banjo in service of one of the saddest predicaments on the planet: winter homelessness.

McGillis is one of dozens of singers and musicians who’ll come together in song Friday to support Clark County’s homegrown response to cold-weather homelessness: the Winter Hospitality Overflow, or WHO.

This is the 13th consecutive year local churches have put on a “Night of Song and Praise” on the first Friday in November in support of homeless people. The beneficiary used to be Share Inc., which runs local shelters and other poverty programs; in more recent years the concert’s revenues have all gone to the WHO.

If you go

• What: 13th annual Night of Song and Praise, benefiting Winter Hospitality Overflow seasonal response to homelessness.

• When: 7 p.m. Friday.

• Where: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 8701 N.E. 119th St.

• Admission: Free, but donations are gratefully accepted. All money goes to the WHO.

• Refreshments: Cookies, coffee and punch afterward.

WHO is a partnership between the Council for the Homeless, a small army of volunteers and a couple of local churches. The St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Orchards and the St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver open their floors to people who can’t find regular shelter beds when the weather gets harsh. This year’s program launched Tuesday.

St. Andrew is open to families with children; St. Paul is single men only. Last year, St. Andrew provided a total of 5,852 bed nights for 329 individuals, including 92 children; St. Paul provided 150 men with a total of 3,676 bed nights. The WHO’s grand total for 2010-11 was 479 individuals and 9,528 bed nights.

Kevin Hiebert, the WHO’s coordinator and a veteran of the Americans Building Community redevelopment effort in Rose Village, said the numbers of children and senior citizens who came to the WHO last year went way up. That’s because layoffs and foreclosures are dumping more families on the street.

He said the annual involvement of nearly 1,700 volunteers is always welcome — and there’s always room for more since the unexpected reliably happens. “Especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. Volunteers are needed straight from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next day, he said.

“It’s an amazing group of volunteers,” he said, including an on-call list that can be tapped when other volunteers fall through. “There are people who say, ‘Hey, just call me at 2 a.m., it doesn’t matter — I’ll be there.’”

Combined forces

The concert Friday is being staged by three local congregations: Salmon Creek United Methodist Church, Lake Shore Community Church and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church — the site of the concert, at 8701 N.E. 119th St., in the Glenwood area, east of 72nd Avenue.

The show will be about two hours long and the three church praise groups will offer different musical stylings — plus some combined musical glories and patriotic audience participation. There’s no admission fee, but all donations will be sent along to the WHO. Salmon Creek Kiwanis picks up the cost of the sound system for the concert.

At a late October rehearsal, the Salmon Creek church praise group got things off to a rockin’ start with some zesty Christian pop, supported by a complete rock band; after that came the harmonies and occasionally a cappella vocals of the Lake Shore Community Church group; and then came the St. John’s Catholic Church group, with folksy numbers and a pick-up band that included trumpet, flute, keyboard, 12-string guitar, washtub bass and McGillis’ banjo — in addition to harmony singers ranging all the way from soprano to basso profundo. (Plus, there was simultaneous translation into American Sign Language.)

“You’ve got all these different denominations working together for this great cause,” said event organizer Nancy Deibert, who also plays flute in the St. John’s group. “It’s really ecumenical.”

“It comes down to the fact that the WHO has no source of funding other than giving,” said Pat Prichard, music director for the Salmon Creek church. “You know it’s going to be winter again, and it’s going to turn cold again, and those people are going to be out there. That’s why we’re doing this.”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525;;