Normally rotating shelter rents St. Elizabeth Education Center to keep homeless guests safe during pandemic, but funding soon expires

WYANDOTTE — For the past several months, the St. Elizabeth Education Center at St. Vincent Pallotti Parish in partnership with ChristNet has served as a temporary safe haven for homeless men and women in Metro Detroit. 

ChristNet, a nonprofit service that provides temporary emergency housing and other services to men and women, has been operating since 1993. Churches of all denominations in the Taylor area work together to make this service possible by hosting ChristNet’s clients one week at a time on a rotational basis. 

“We are a seasonal shelter; we run a program 24/7 throughout the day, but the emergency housing at night only continues from October to June,” said the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey G. Drutchas, ChristNet’s founder and a board member. “A different church hosts and we rotate between Catholic and Protestant churches throughout Downriver.”

Through the help of a federal grant extended through the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, ChristNet made a deal with St. Vincent Pallotti Parish, changing its model from rotational to stationary until Sept. 30, 2020.

When the coronavirus hit Michigan in mid-March, ChristNet was left to quickly figure out how to provide for its clients while still following social distancing and quarantine mandates. 

Through the help of a federal grant extended through the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, ChristNet made a deal with St. Vincent Pallotti Parish, changing its model from rotational to stationary until Sept. 30, 2020. 

“There was a real concern about the wellbeing of those who are homeless,” Drutchas said. “We don’t want to put them in a situation where they are further contributing (to the spread of the coronavirus) as well. We don’t want to be a cause of the problem.”

Normally, ChristNet’s rotational shelters house approximately 30 people. However, the stationary shelter at St. Vincent Pallotti has maintained approximately 15 guests, both men and women, in the St. Elizabeth Education Center, which normally is used for religious education classes, RCIA, prayer groups and other parish activities. 

While the parish is not receiving much financial gain from the arrangement — the grant primarily covered overhead costs for the building — ChristNet made some changes to the building including the installation of washers, driers and showers which the parish administrator, Fr. Brendan McCarrick, SAC, believes will benefit the parish into the future.

“It was out of God’s goodness that we were able to help them, trying to assist them the best we can,” Fr. McCarrick said. “We will keep the facility how they installed it.”

With the lease and funding ending right before Michigan’s chillier weather sets in, however, and with health officials predicting another pandemic spike, ChristNet is still working to determine what to do next. 

ChristNet’s arrangement with the parish was never intended to be permanent, and with the lease ending on Sep. 30 and cold weather setting in ChristNet is working hard to figure out what is next for their shelter and their guests. 

“The arrangement was never intended to be permanent,” Drutchas said. “Ordinarily, we would immediately be moving into our usual fall schedule, but the problem is that two-thirds of the churches are closed. Even those that are open have limited programming.”

In addition to concern about its homeless guests, the leadership at ChristNet also is worried about its volunteer base, most of whom are older than 65 and in a high-risk category for COVID-19, Drutchas said.

“This weighs down on us hugely,” Drutchas said. “If we were not a faith-based organization, we would really be despairing. We have faith somehow that through the good grace of God we will be able to work through these issues and the resources will be able to be found to make sure we can provide this safety net.”

Drutchas remains hopeful, and he believes this difficult time and the weight of it all allows for reflection and growth.

“It has provided a chance for the hands-on mission of our local churches; for us to be thankful to Jesus Christ by assisting those who are in need,” Drutchas said. “This has been a wonderful opportunity to give, to share, and to be faithful and it’s being shared by churches across all of Christian stripes and throughout the whole community.”