In dangerously low temps, Detroit parishes open up to keep people out of the cold

With temperatures dipping down to the sub-zero range, and the windchill dropping to historically dangerous levels of 40 below zero, Detroit parishes are opening their doors so residents can warm up. (CNS photo/Tannen Maury, EPA)

St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish, Pope Francis Center, scramble to shelter residents 

DETROIT — “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

A few Detroit parishes are adding another interpretation to the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was cold, and you gave me shelter.”

The high temperature for Wednesday, Jan. 30, was predicted to be a bone-chilling 6 degrees below zero in Detroit, with a windchill reaching historically dangerous levels down to 45 below zero. The extremely cold temperatures have forced schools and offices to close as people try to stay warm.

But many people don’t have a warm home or a safe place to go to get out of the blistering cold. So parishes such as St. Augustine and St. Monica on Detroit’s east side, 4151 Seminole St., two blocks north of Mack Avenue, are stepping up.

Msgr. Daniel Trapp, pastor of St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish in Detroit, has organized parishioners and volunteers to open up an emergency 24/7 shelter in the parish’s social hall. (Mike Stechschulte | Michigan Catholic)

It was around 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, when St. Augustine and St. Monica pastor Msgr. Daniel Trapp issued a call-out to the parish community to organize some relief for neighbors who were left in the cold.

“We got all of this set up in 24 hours when we had the cots delivered,” Msgr. Trapp told Detroit Catholic. “The first call for volunteers was 10 p.m. on Monday, and by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, we had the cots and all the commitments we needed.”

St. Augustine and St. Monica opened the church and social hall at 5 p.m. on Tuesday for people to come in, eat a home-cooked meal prepared by parish volunteers, and rest on a cot with provided blankets and toiletries.

Msgr. Trapp said the parish had 50 cots for people to stay all day and overnight until Friday morning.

St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish had 50 cots in the church’s social hall for guests to stay overnight until Friday, offering reprieve from the bitter cold temperatures. (Courtesy photo)

“Volunteers from the parish and seminary are really helping us out, but we have only six people who have come in so far, so we really need to get the word out,” Msgr. Trapp said. “All told, we have 30 volunteers who are helping out from the parish and Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Our parish is for everyone who lives in the neighborhood. Some people in our neighborhood only have a space heater, which only works some of the time. This is something the community really needs.”  

Further west in downtown Detroit, Fr. Tim McCabe, SJ, executive director of the Pope Francis Center at SS. Peter and Paul (Jesuit) Church, 438 St Antoine St., have expanded their daily ministry to the homeless as a 24/7 operation.

“Normally, we’re open for six days a week, 7-11 a.m. where homeless can come in and shower, get a meal, medical attention and do their laundry,” Fr. McCabe said. “But since yesterday, we’ve been open as an emergency center with the help of the Red Cross and Medstar Ambulance, who brought in 150 cots and filled the church with cots and blankets.”

Just like St. Augustine and St. Monica, the Pope Francis Center has become a 24/7 operation until Friday, when forecasters are predicting a warmup.

Fr. McCabe said the Pope Francis Center is providing hot food, coffee, board games, hats, gloves and scarves for its guests.

“We had 75 people last night and 130 in the building right now,” Fr. McCabe said. “It’s been a whirlwind in putting this together in 48 hours, but we heard there were not enough beds in the shelters. Last year, we had three of our usual guests who froze to death when they were sleeping outside, so as a staff we got together with the parish community and said we would not let that happen again.

“The parish community has been excited to help out,” Fr. McCabe said. “Pope Francis said the Church should look like a field hospital. And with all the cots in the Church, it literally looks like a field hospital right now.”

The Pope Francis Center, located next to SS. Peter and Paul (Jesuit) Church, is open 24/7 until Friday for guests to stay warm, get a meal, have access to a sink and shower and receive gloves, hats and scarves. (Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Fr. McCabe added three medical staff are on hand to provide assistance and transportation to and from the warming center, and Pope Francis Center staff will be at the church 24/7 to assist guests around the clock.

“We’re not going to turn anyone out,” Fr. McCabe said. “We’re coordinating with the mayor’s office, coordinating with outreach workers, seeing where else there is space. We have space for eight women and 80 men. As other shelters fill up, we are in constant communication, with an ambulance here and beds available. We are here to be there when people need us.”