Caring For One’s Neighbor3 min read

St. Luke, Ann Arbor has been serving as a weeklong overnight shelter for homeless people for over 20 years. The service is coordinated by the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, and several area churches participate in the rotation.

St. Luke’s gym all set up for the guests

Initially, St. Luke would host the shelter one week per year. During the pandemic, many churches withdrew and, in 2021, St. Luke was asked if they could provide the service for 4 weeks. They agreed, and the SAWC provided overnight staff and food. That was a one-time event; now St. Luke provides two weeks of shelter per year. Most recently, they opened their doors on the week of December 25 and again on January 15.

The homeless men are usually dropped off by the SAWC van at various times between 6 and 8 p.m. SAWC staff checks all guests with a breathalizer to ensure everyone’s safety. St. Luke’s volunteers provide a dinner, shower, and a place to sleep in their gym. Once a week, guests can put their laundry in a bag and volunteers wash, dry, and fold their clothes for them. In the morning the guests can have coffee, fruit, and some snacks, and are then dropped off at specific spots in Ann Arbor. Several of the men request to be dropped off at St. Andrew’s church, which provides breakfast year-round.

Allen Morgan and his wife Sharon have been the coordinators of the program since 2015. They have the help of a team of 50-75 people from both St. Luke and another church that rents space in the building. These volunteers serve in various ways, whether actively (providing meals, doing laundry, picking up and driving the van in the morning, staying overnight) or by giving financial support.

When asked about things that stood out, Morgan said he’s always struck by the mental health issues he sees, and it is very sad. He said he and the other volunteers try to engage with the guests. Some talk, some don’t. One positive interaction he remembers was with a young man, barely 18 years old, who came to the church shelter one year. Morgan says, “He was scared. He had nothing but the clothes on his back and had never been homeless before. People from the church got together and bought him clothes.” Morgan had the opportunity to talk with him a few times, and by the end of the week, the young man seemed to be feeling better, having seen people pour love on him. A year later they visited him again and learned that he had been connected to some resources from the county to get his life restarted.

More churches are stepping up to help. In 2023, University Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor started participating in the rotating shelter in Washtenaw County, and Trinity, Warren joined Trinity, Utica in providing shelter for Macomb County residents. If your congregation would like to help homeless people in your area, contact your local government agency.

Featured photo © SeventyFour/iStock; photo of St. Luke’s gym courtesy of Allen Morgan

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This blog was published by the Communications Department of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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