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Traverse City church joins day shelter pilot

Women serving breakfast at day shelter

Traverse City: Central UMC joins a new two-year pilot project with community partners, supported by the local government, to provide 24-7 day shelter services during colder months in this Northern Michigan city.

Communications Chair, Safe Harbor

Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City has been serving outreach meals for almost 20 years, but this fall, their hot breakfast program will become part of something bigger. Their weekday breakfasts will play a key role in a new two-year pilot project providing day shelter services during colder months. Beginning October 15, Traverse City: Central will be the first of three indoor locations where people experiencing homelessness can go during the day.

Traverse City: Central’s breakfast program is integral to its ministry of welcome. Once individuals arrive in the fellowship hall, regulars are greeted by name, and the atmosphere, with comfortable round tables and fresh, healthy meals accompanied by bottomless cups of joe, resembles a coffee shop. “Every day at work, I know I am feeding people, and that’s a Jesus thing,” says Outreach Coordinator Rev. Jane Lippert. “We are a safe place for people to be while they are waiting. A place to be respected and loved while they are waiting for housing.”

Breakfast is served at Traverse City: Central, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am to 10:30 am. Guests can then spend the day at Jubilee House, a ministry of Grace Episcopal Church located less than a block away. Under the leadership of Grace’s newly hired Associate Rector, the Rev. Dr. Derek J. Quinn, Jubilee House is expanding its services to run from 10 am to 5:30 pm, five days a week, and has hired staff to assist in this expansion. Once Jubilee House closes for the day, guests have the option to walk three blocks to Traverse City’s seasonal emergency shelter, Safe Harbor, which is open from 6 pm to 8 am during the fall and winter seasons.

Two men standing next to each other
Safe Harbor Board Chair, Christopher Ellalasingham, and Jubilee House Director, the Rev. Derek J. Quinn of Grace Episcopal Church, were all smiles the night that the Traverse City Commission approved extended hours for Safe Harbor on weekends. ~ photo courtesy Joshua Brandt

As part of this new pilot project’s mission, the city has authorized Safe Harbor to remain open during the day on weekends from October 15 to April 30. Additional support is being provided by the Traverse City Police Department (TCPD), Goodwill Northern Michigan’s Street Outreach program, and the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness.

The 24-7 coverage will provide services similar to a permanent day shelter, a much-needed city resource whose absence was keenly felt last year.

Recognizing the Need

The critical need for a community day shelter became apparent last season when calls for police service to the Woodmere Branch of the Traverse Area District Library (TADL), the main library branch, more than doubled from the previous year. There were 170 police calls to the Traverse Area District Library and adjacent Hull Park on Boardman Lake between November and March, according to numbers provided by Police Chief Captain Keith Gillis.

With no place to go, individuals dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, and physical limitations often congregated in the library and sometimes misbehaved. This past spring, with the shelter closing and summer approaching, discussions about a day shelter began in earnest. The library advocated for a daytime shelter or community center to give people someplace to go during the hours when Safe Harbor wasn’t open.

Outside Safe Harbor, Traverse City
Safe Harbor volunteers planted a colorful perennial garden to brighten the Emergency Shelter, which opens October 15 and runs through April 30. ~ photo courtesy Sallie Krepps

The library’s concerns led the city to develop community partnerships with local organizations, including the TCPD, which is in the process of hiring both a community police officer for the North Boardman neighborhood and a dedicated police social worker. “The Basic Needs Coalition had been talking a while about the need for a day shelter,” explains Pastor Jane. “But it was the Woodmere Branch of TADL that really pushed the agenda.”

The pilot project aims to improve safety for everyone, from those experiencing homelessness to residents in the North Boardman neighborhood, by solving problems before they become issues. This is a “step in the right direction,” said a North Boardman resident. Traverse City Mayor Richard Lewis also applauded the effort, noting, “While I might have been sitting around, this was the [community] brainstorming on how to meet this need.”

Partnering for the Greater Good

Pastor Jane Lippert agrees that the pilot is a good thing. “It will be helpful for mental and physical health for people to know they can have shelter from the weather.” Pastor Jane predicts that the stability will result in lower stress, which will positively impact the community. She is also supportive of partnering with different agencies. “It is good for guests to be in different locations. Mentally, people check out if they never leave a place.”

Another reason guests move between locations is that each offers different services. Traverse City: Central serves breakfast and provides a mailing address and limited showers. Jubilee House offers laundry facilities, computer access, television, clothing, and showers. Safe Harbor serves dinner and offers guests a host of evening services, including a recreation room, beds, blankets, and over-the-counter medications, as well as laundry and shower facilities.

Heart for People Who Are Spiritual but not Religious

While the pilot is new this fall, Traverse City: Central’s outreach program is well established. “Over twenty years ago, people would stop into our downtown church for assistance,” says Pastor Jane. “So, the pastor hired someone to meet with them.” Soon a second person was hired so that meetings could occur in the fellowship hall. “Church members Mike Hornsby and Michael McDonald started making coffee and bringing donuts. Before long, Sue and Sandra, their wives, started cooking informally and eventually asked permission to prepare a meal two days a week.”

Pastor Jane Lippert receiving food from truck
Northwest Food Coalition’s Food Rescue makes regular deliveries to Traverse City: Central and Pastor Jane Lippert selects the items she can use. ~ photo courtesy Donna Olendorf

Two days became three, three grew to five, and that eventually expanded to include winter weekends. Then-coordinator Lucy de Bolt reached out to the Northwest Food Coalition’s Food Rescue group to begin food deliveries. When Lucy retired, Pastor Jane took the job in 2016.

“I was on a leave of absence, looking at the second half of life, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I became interested in the concept of ‘spiritual but not religious.’ I’ve always had a heart for people beyond the church. My calling is to be a bridge builder, and I realized that these were my people . . . this population who feels judged and not good enough.”

Providing Healthy Food for a Vulnerable Population

In addition to providing a safe space, Traverse City: Central is also a place where people without access to kitchens and groceries can eat healthy food.

Fruit, protein, dairy, and healthy carbohydrates are offered at Traverse City: Central. “We don’t serve cakes and cookies for breakfast,” says Pastor Jane. “Because our program is structured, I was able to start looking at nutrition.” The church became more involved in the Northwest Food Coalition, and the pandemic created an opportunity because there were smaller farmers with no restaurants to sell to. Traverse City: Central became a valued customer and started to work like a CSA (community-supported agriculture).

“We bought hogs in advance,” Pastor Jane noted. “They were purchased, raised, and delivered. Local farmers could count on our purchases, and now it’s become the norm.”

Pastor Jane Lippert serving at Safe Harbor
Rev. Jane Lippert, Outreach Coordinator at Traverse City: Central United Methodist Church, also volunteers from time to time at Safe Harbor, Traverse City’s Emergency Shelter. ~ photo courtesy Rev. Jane Lippert

Preparing food for 50 to 100 people daily takes a lot of planning and many volunteers. Pastor Jane has a network of 35 to 40 regulars who sign up for weekly shifts that cover preparing and cooking food, serving, and cleaning the big commercial kitchen that operates under ServSafe food safety and handling guidelines. “I have wonderful volunteers, says Pastor Jane. “Their hands are all over giving life to the disenfranchised.”

And she is happy about the uptick in the coordination of resources among different agencies. The march of the pandemic forced Traverse City: Central, Jubilee House, Goodwill Northern Michigan, and Safe Harbor into partnership because things were changing daily, she notes.

“Having shelter during cold temperatures is a basic human need that was not being met,” Pastor Jane concludes. “I am heartened that local government is stepping up to serve more of their constituency.”

~ Former Director of Adult Education at Traverse City: Central UMC, Donna Olendorf now volunteers for their hot breakfast program and serves on the Safe Harbor board as Communications Chair. She worked in publishing for 28 years and holds a master’s degree in information science from the University of Michigan.

Last Updated on October 25, 2022

The Michigan Conference