St. Stephen's to Host South Oakland Shelter; Volunteers Needed
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Troy will host the South Oakland Shelter (SOS) Sept. 23-30.
For more than 25 years, South Oakland Shelter (SOS) has worked with its 67 partner congregations to provide temporary lodging and supportive services that help homeless individuals and families break the cycle of homelessness, and live independently. With an emphasis on homeless prevention, sustainable housing solutions, and career development, SOS implements strategies and programs that provide realistic options for homeless and at-risk individuals and families seeking stabilization and self-sufficiency.
For one week each year, beginning in the fall of 1986, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church has housed approximately thirty folks who have found themselves homeless and are clients of the South Oakland Shelter.
There are eight other congregations in Troy who also take one week a year to serve those who are homeless. They are: Kensington Community Church, St. Anastasia, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Troy Church of Christ, Congregation Shir Tikvah, Central Woodward Christian Church, First United Methodist Church, and Big Beaver United Methodist.
Other Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Michigan that currently are part of this program are St. David's in Southfield, St. Phillip's in Rochester, St. John's inRoyal Oak, St. James in Birmingham, and Christ Church at Cranbrook. Seven additional Episcopal congregations have also been part of this ministry in past years.
Congregations that sponsor a week typically have between 100 and 250 volunteers who give of their time as hosts. They stay overnight, fix and serve breakfast and dinner (with a bag lunch to go), pick up the guests at the SOS office near 12 Mile and Southfield, in Lathrop Village, and drive them to work or appointments in the morning. They share fellowship and play games with the children (who sometimes make up 1/3 of the guests), talk with guests and offer other talents (giving haircuts or massages for example).
SOS was conceived in 1984 when staff from the (then) Dep't of Social Services, and United Communities of SE Michigan, called together pastors and lay workers from local congregations to talk about the growing homeless population in the south Oakland community. When 7 congregations said they would each provide a week of shelter and food, the SOS began the 2nd week in December of 1985. By early April, 17 congregations had taken a week each, and each year the number increased until SOS was able to be open for all 52 weeks within 5 years.
Three of St. Stephen's members – the Rev. Jim Maxwell (retired priest in residence), the late Mike O'Neill, and the late Daisy Eldon – were founding members of SOS.
SOS currently partners with about 60 congregations to provide year-round service to the homeless of our community. Its mission (with its partner congregations) is to "provide transitional services and programs to reduce the impact and prevalence of homelessness."
There are 30 or more people at any one time who are part of the SOS program SOS works with a diverse range of people struggling with homelessness, to assist them in mitigating the challenges that they face and to equip them with the tools necessary to regain independence and stability. Since its founding, SOS has cared for over 10,800 adults and 1400 children.
Each year, approximately 8,000 volunteers provide 42,000 hours of in-kind support. In 2009, SOS was named the "Most Outstanding Volunteer Program" by the Michigan Governor's Service Commission. In 2011, SOS received a significant grant from Charter One Bank when it gave SOS its "Champions in Action" award. Last year, 78 percent of sheltered households successfully exited into housing, and 95 percent of clients in "Follow-Up Care" have sustained housing.
There is a Board of Directors of 20 community residents who oversee the work of SOS, and a staff of approximately 15, led by Executive Director Ryan Hurtz, and including some six Americor/Vista Volunteers.
Recent large grants have come from the U.S. Dep't of HUD, United Way of SE Michigan, and the Jewish Fund.
SOS's annual fundraising event, "Dancing with the Stars," will be held Nov. 17 at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. Phone 248-809-3773 for tickets.
SOS is always looking for new congregations to join in this effort to break the cycle of homelessness. In addition to more Christian and Jewish congregations, we would especially like to encourage members of Mosques, Temples, and other religious and secular institutions to join in this community effort (for a few years, a bank in Farmington Hills sponsored a week of SOS in their building). Phone the above number for more information.