Detroit Stories Episode 49: 'A Warm Welcome' (PODCAST)

How a rotating warming shelter is more than a service for Royal Oak's homeless; it's a blessing for guests and volunteers alike

(0:02) Laura Mills, a volunteer at the rotating warming shelter at St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak, talks about “Santa Claus,” one of the shelter’s longtime guests, who was able to find housing and rehabilitate after a lifetime of addiction. Mills says his “feel good story” is emblematic of the work the shelter has done to provide homeless and struggling individuals a lifeline for decades.

(3:07) Coordinator Heather Croy describes the work of the shelter, which, for a few weeks each winter, provides a respite from the bitter Michigan cold for dozens of guests with nowhere else to turn. The parish’s gym is transformed with beds, fresh coffee is provided, and meals are served. It’s a chance for guests to feel human again, she says.

(6:12) Croy talks about how the effort got started more than 40 years ago after a homeless man froze to death outside the Royal Oak library. Dismayed, St. Mary’s pastor at the time organized a temporary shelter in the evenings, just somewhere those down on their luck could crash for the night. Soon, other churches took notice, and eventually six area congregations decided to open their doors to the homeless as well. Today, each church takes two weeks each winter.

(7:48) Despite Royal Oak’s upscale atmosphere, Croy says, the need is very real for the city’s homeless population. Croy talks about the changes since COVID-19, including the necessity to scale back the number of guests for safety reasons. It’s been difficult, she says.

(12:03) Far from simply providing a meal and a warm bed, Croy says it’s important that volunteers take time to greet guests on a personal level. Every guest at St. Mary’s knows her by name, and she knows them. It’s how Jesus would want it, she says.

(14:34) A guest at the shelter, who chose to remain anonymous, talks about how the shelter’s volunteers made her and her daughter feel at home, and the circumstances that led her to seek help. “They are praying for me,” she says. “They’re wonderful women.”

(16:38) Another guest, Kevin Brown, found himself homeless after his wife died of COVID-19 last year. He’s been working to secure housing as a job transfer materializes, but the shelter has been a needed stopgap.

(19:35) Croy talks about how the shelter’s guests aren’t the only ones who feel the impact. Volunteers love the opportunity to put God’s gifts to work for others, and in turn are blessed by the guests who arrive at St. Mary’s. Croy cites Matthew 25 as an impetus for the shelter’s work.

Reporting by Gabriella Patti; narration and script by Casey McCorry; voice dubbing by Leah Butalid; production by Ron Pangborn

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