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Winter Sanctuary for the Homeless

Karen Hagen of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church

Jan. 9, 2013
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“Churches can do almost anything that they have the heart to do. If a congregation like ours can make such a difference, imagine the contributions that others could make,” says the Rev. Karen Hagen of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church (125 W. Saveland Ave.), a progressive neighborhood institution on Milwaukee’s Southeast Side. Dedicated to “justice ministries and spiritual formation” and committed to promoting tolerance and community, the parish has dutifully served its congregation and the surrounding localities for the last 75 years. Services include spiritual direction, life coaching, faith circles, food programs, adult education courses and Sunday school classes. Last month, the church reopened its Divine Intervention Cold Weather Ministry, an overnight prayer vigil and winter sanctuary for Milwaukee’s homeless population, promising that the ministry will remain open through the end of March.

How did the Divine Intervention Cold Weather Ministry begin?

Three seasons ago, an opportunity presented itself to intervene in the lives of homeless people in the Bay View/Cudahy neighborhood. We began an overnight prayer vigil warming room so that our homeless guests could have a safe sanctuary during the very threatening months of winter. It takes the full cooperation of over 20 communities in Milwaukee, including 1,500 volunteer contacts per season in order to provide supervision, potluck dinners and financial support.

But Tippecanoe Church is not a licensed shelter.

We are not licensed as a shelter and we’re very aware of that and it’s very intentional. We open our doors for 130 nights at 5:30 p.m. We have a volunteer staff, two overnight hosts and myself present, in addition to different faith communities coming in each night to provide a potluck family-style dinner. We do not have beds or showers, or cook on our premises because we are not a shelter, we are a church program.

Do you feel that your ministry challenges some of the stigma surrounding shelters and centers that serve homeless individuals?

Absolutely—13 out of 20 of our guests were placed in programs or back with families at the end of last year. We have individuals moving towards sobriety, but I wonder if the biggest impact is on those who serve in the ministry because their eyes are now open to what it means to be homeless. Many faith communities are beginning to look at homelessness and ministry differently.

What are the main issues guests are presenting?

Everyone has a unique story. We see a lot of long term unemployed and, in this economy, if guests were at the bottom before, they are way at the bottom now. We do see some with mental wellness issues because there aren’t programs for them or there aren’t enough programs to go around. We do see some people who have health concerns that keep them from being able to work and we have people who are more recently homeless.

To make a financial or in-kind contribution, visit tippechurch.org or call 414-481-4680.


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