DURAND — When the Rev. Lisa Lahring, the pastor at The Crossing Free Methodist Church, considered turning the church’s unused parsonage into an emergency homeless shelter, she immediately thought about one of her parishioners, John Woolpert.
Woolpert, who became homeless for a time several years ago after getting sick and losing his job, is now the overseer of the new House of Hope, a temporary shelter for one person, couple or one family at a time.
The Crossing, 708 S. Oak St., began operating the shelter, a furnished tri-level home with fresh paint and flooring, in partnership with neighbor Light of Faith Fellowship Church a couple of weeks ago.
Lahring and Woolpert expect to have their first guest soon now that cold winter weather has set in, most likely referred to them by Capital Area Community Services in Owosso.
“This is an effort by our whole congregation and the community to keep someone warm at night, and to work with them to empower them and lift them up with their dignity intact,” Woolpert said.
Lahring first began thinking about how to use the church’s vacant parsonage about a year ago. She has her own house in Gaines, and so didn’t need a parsonage. Because the house is on church property, it can’t be rented out.
After conferring with Woolpert and the church’s board of directors, Lahring decided to transform the house into an emergency shelter as a ministry. Through the church’s previous work with the homeless, Lahring knew it was a problem in Shiawassee County.
At the time, Walls of Warmth, a temporary winter shelter provided by Owosso churches, had closed. Homeless Angels, a Lansing-based shelter that recently opened a shelter in Owosso, hadn’t yet set it sights on Shiawassee County.
“Our vision is to help restore hope in the midst of the chaos of homelessness through the love of Jesus Christ,” Lahring said in a flier about House of Hope.
In addition to giving someone a place to stay, Lahring said House of Hope residents will also receive training in goal-setting, decision-making, spiritual matters and financial areas, such as budgeting, she said.
Residents will be provided with transportation to CACS in order to be connected to social services for which they are eligible. A social worker who is a member of The Crossing has offered to lend a hand as well.
“We’ll be walking alongside them to help them be proactive,” Lahring said. “We welcome any church that wants to partner with us in some way.”
Homelessness has been a ministry of The Crossing for several years. The church has purchased 500 sleeping bags and distributed them in Flint and Owosso. More recently, church members handed out packed lunches to homeless people. From time to time, they have put people up in local motels.
The Crossing also gave Woolpert and his wife, Dena Woolpert, assistance when they needed it. The couple’s hard times started after John Woolpert became sick and lost his job. They lost their home and had to live in their truck. Then, after he had to return to the hospital, they lost the truck.
John Woolpert teared up when talking about the warm welcome he and his wife received at The Crossing, and how important a role Lahring played in helping them get back on their feet. Woolpert is now on medical disability. His wife never stopped working. The couple now reside in Durand.
Woolpert took charge of a crew that repainted the house, which is now ready for occupancy.
“The Lord has provided everything,” Lahring said. “This is our ministry.”
On Nov. 12, the Shiawassee Homeless Coalition presented House of Hope with a Building Hope Award. The award is inscribed with the words “In appreciation for supporting the community through recognition of need, assessment of situation and building hope.”
To apply for House of Hope, call CACS at (989) 723-3115.