Flint, MI– Catholic Charities reopened its Warming Center Dec. 1, and is expecting more overnight stays this year compared to last.
The Warming Center, located in St. Michael’s Church at 609 E. 5th Ave, is a place where unhoused people can come in, have a hot meal, play board games, and keep warm throughout the winter.
While the center is not technically a shelter, and doesn’t have beds, Mary Stevenson, the volunteer services coordinator for the Center for Hope, said that in a typical season, there are 10,000 to 12,000 overnight stays.
“We are intended to be kind of an overflow, and there are a number of people who have a lot of mental health issues, who just have issues in general, that have been asked to leave the shelters in town and are unable to go anyplace else,” she said. “So…for a lot of people we are the last hope.”
The number of overnight stays dropped significantly last year, to just about 3,500, but Stevenson said she thought many of the unhoused people in the area had used federal COVID-19 checks to stay in hotels and motels, rather than the center.
“Since there aren’t any checks this year, at least not so far anyway, we should have more people, which is okay, because we’re able to accommodate more people this year,” Stevenson said.
The church the center is located in has recently had its pews taken out, leaving a wide open space with room for more than 50 people to stay overnight on new gymnastics-style floor mats.
Stevenson said the center sees a lot of veterans, families, and, over the 12 years the center has been open, more children.
“We do our best to keep them warm and fed and comfortable, and we go through a lot of efforts trying to find them housing, and in a more comfortable situation,” she said. “Obviously, nobody wants their kids to wake up Christmas morning in a warming center, but the alternative is worse.”
The center does not need volunteers, but Stevenson said donations of different games would be appreciated.
“Decks of cards, board games, word puzzles, anything like that,” she said. “A lot of these guys play chess, it’s a very popular game here, and not just with the kids, but with the grown men.”
The center is open from Dec. 1 to March 31 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., people are asked to step out so the staff can clean, and then people can check back in if they need to stay overnight.
On Dec. 3, from 11 a.m. to noon, the center is having a Blessing Day, where clergy in the community, of all faiths, come and pray over the coming season. Community members have also volunteered to bring pizza, cookies, and care packages called “Blessing bags” to give to those in need on this day.
All throughout the season, Stevenson said community organizations continue to help bring various special events to the center, like musical performances from the Flint Institute of Music, to children performing Christmas carols.
“People just open their hearts and do what they can to make things a little easier for the next guy,” Stevenson said. “That part of it is a wonderful thing to see every year.”