Churches and synagogues in the New Haven area will cooperate during the winter months to provide extra overnight emergency shelter for homeless men from Columbus House.
The program known as Abraham’s Tent is named for an episode in Genesis 18 when the patriarch Abraham provides hospitality in his tent for three strangers.
“The key word there is hospitality,” said Stephen Peterson, a Columbus House volunteer helping to coordinate the effort, which has grown since it was started three years ago.
The churches and synagogues provide shelter, meals and companionship for 12 homeless men pre-screened by the Columbus House staff, with each church putting the group up for a week at a time.
Volunteers from the houses of worship provide the services, food and overnight supervision, while Columbus House provides the sleeping cots and transportation. During the day, the men return to Columbus House to participate in job training and counseling programs.
Peterson said Abraham’s Tent frees up 12 beds at Columbus House so that more homeless people can receive help.
A Strong Support Network
He said transportation requirements limit the locations to churches and synagogues close to Columbus House. The locations include houses of worship in New Haven, Branford, Hamden, North Haven and West Haven.
However, Peterson said people from churches and synagogues in towns further away, including Woodbridge, have also volunteered to assist in Abraham’s Tent.
The took its turn during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, which the senior pastor, the Rev. Scott Morrow, said is an especially challenging period to muster volunteers because of the holidays.
Morrow said his church teams up with to pool their resources. St. John’s will provide the location during the week of Feb. 20-27, he said.
“It’s working out very well,” Morrow said. “The men are very appreciative and it’s a remarkable experience for our church members to meet them.”
He said the interaction shows the volunteers that homelessness can result from a variety of circumstances, such as unemployment, health crises, substance abuse and mental health problems.
“Given the current economy, most of the volunteers are more aware of those situations,” he noted.
Economic Realities Led to Program
“This is the third year in a row it’s been operating,” Peterson said of the program. Abraham’s Tent program was organized when budget problems caused by the bad economy forced the City of New Haven to cut funding assistance for homeless shelters at the same time those economic conditions caused an increase in homelessness, Peterson said.
Each year it has been easier to find churches and volunteers to run the effort, Peterson said.
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Branford is scheduled to provide the location for Abraham’s Tent during the Jan. 9-16 week. Parish Council Chairperson Joan Pirtel said about 80 volunteers from the church are required for the week, to shop for food, prepare and serve meals, overnight supervision and companionship.
Pirtel said she is trying to get the Branford Chorus to stop by and entertain the homeless men one evening.
Other houses of worship participating in Abraham’s Tent this year are
- Unitarian Society of New Haven
- Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden
- Grace & St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden
- First Presbyterian in New Haven
- Spring Glen UCC in Hamden
- First & Summerfield UMC in New Haven
- First Baptist Church of Branford
- Church of the Redeemer in New Haven
- St. Paul and St. James in New Haven
- Church of the Holy Spirit in West Haven
- Church of the Rock in New Haven