(Originally posted on Wake Forest School of Divinity Unfolding Blog 1/29/16)
As a native North Carolinian, I’ve been steeped in the understanding that when snow starts falling, public life quickly shuts down. Stay off the roads. We’re not equipped. It’s not worth the risk. Except for a few faithful public servants—road crews, policemen, hospital staff, etc.—we seem to have a collective hibernation instinct in the snow.
I love the “Office of Communications and External Relations” emails announcing snow days as much as the next student—eagerly anticipating that it might come, like children looking up the chimney on Christmas Eve, and then nodding with knowing satisfaction at the gift landing in our inbox (did we really expect anything else?).
But this past weekend the forecast gave me a different form of anxiety. I had a broader awareness of what’s at stake when a weather event halts the normal functioning of society. People can’t work (especially problematic for hourly wage earners), businesses lose money, children miss out on a stimulating learning environment, and for some, their only chance at a nourishing meal for the day…turns out snow days aren’t all sledding and snow cream. And for me personally, I was keenly aware of the dangerous conditions a snowstorm presents for those in our community experiencing homelessness.
As part of Wake Divinity’s Art of Ministry program, I intern with City with Dwellings, a community partnership addressing homelessness in Winston-Salem. The collaboration involves congregations, college and civic groups, and individuals—including persons formerly homeless—in the effort to end homelessness. From December 1 through March 31, City with Dwellings operates four overflow shelter sites that become the dwelling place for roughly one hundred of our homeless neighbors. The overflow shelters are a pressing need when all of the shelters in Winston-Salem are consistently full to capacity. But we also operate with a Community First vision, in which our network of relationships offers the foundation for our actions. One of the things I am learning about homelessness is what an isolating experience it tends to be. The lack of supportive community may be part of the cause of someone’s homelessness, but it is almost certainly a consequence. We hope, then, that the environments we create together are places where everyone feels recognized, valued, and supported. As guests work towards personally defined goals for housing and stability, some of our relationships will grow and evolve into mutual friendship.
Last weekend our Community First vision was on display as we affirmed that we cared what happened to our guests, no matter what the conditions. We called on neighbors from our ever expanding network to contribute where and how they could: an additional downtown church opened to accommodate everyone closer to the check-in site; volunteers packed extra bags to stay downtown if they needed to; those with four-wheel drive offered their vehicles, and we even had downtown police cars offering a few rides to open resources Friday morning.
The name “City with Dwellings” alludes to a Judeo-Christian description of homes lining the streets as an image of a restored community. Last weekend the streets were snow-blanketed, but the dwelling places remained, and the restoration continued. So may it be, no matter what the conditions.
Rachel Revelle is a third-year Wake Forest Divinity student interning with City with Dwellings and a member at Knollwood Baptist Church.