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Bethlehem churches' efforts to shelter homeless during winter months commendable

An Express-Times Editorial – Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Temperatures are starting to climb, most snowbanks have melted away and those of us here in the Northeast are beginning to trade our winter coats for light jackets.

Ah, spring! It's a time when we are no longer forced to cope with crippling snowstorms, ice-covered roads or chapped skin.

And it's also the time when the homeless among us aren't quite as vulnerable as they were during the bone-chilling days and nights of winter.

Recently Express-Times reporter Lynn Olanoff took readers inside a church-based effort in Bethlehem that provides shelter for the homeless from January through March.

The collaborative effort began last year with St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and spread to include seven churches before the winter season was over. This winter, the rotating shelter program grew with Trinity Episcopal organizing the program and 11 other churches serving as temporary shelters.

It's a huge undertaking, requiring a stable of volunteers willing to handle a wide array of duties, including coordinating schedules, sleeping in the temporary shelters overnight, cooking dinners or providing breakfasts.

When major snowstorms struck this winter, some volunteers risked treacherous snow-covered roads to reach the shelter, knowing vulnerable people would be forced to sleep outside in dangerously frigid conditions.

That's dedication. That's brotherhood. That's empathy. That's love.

Those involved with the shelter say they've noticed the numbers climb this year -- a sad fact they attribute to the lousy economy and word of mouth about the shelter's existence.

Organizers are keenly aware that homelessness is a year-round problem but they lack the manpower and other resources for that kind of operation.

In Easton, a church-based collaborative effort in the 1980s eventually led to the creation of a permanent homeless shelter -- Safe Harbor.

Time will tell what happens in Bethlehem. For now, though, these churches and their volunteers deserve this community's thanks for a job well done.

Churches involved in the effort are: Trinity Episcopal Church, Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Christ Church, Church of the Manger, College Hill Moravian Church, El Shaddai Bethlehem Ministries, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New Covenant Christian Community Church, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley and West Side Moravian Church.

Read earlier Express-Times story here. View a video of an interview with a Robert Syfor, a homeless man, and the Rev. Canon Joel Atkinson.


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