NORFOLK, Va.— First Presbyterian Church on Colonial Avenue in Norfolk is home for many who don’t have anywhere else to go. It’s the first homeless housing location this season for the Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team (NEST).
“We have a lot of churches that have closed, and so we had to sort of rearrange things,” said Anne Odell, who runs the NEST program.
NEST is making changes this year to run the program successfully and safely.
Doors open at 7 p.m., and instead of first-come first-serve, older citizens get first priority.
“When you send them out the door you can give them a hot dinner, but they're still going out in the elements, and that does not feel good,” said Odell.
NEST just added 15 more mats so 15 less people are left without a warm place to go each night. The church can now accommodate up to 40 people.
The dividers between each sleeping area are also new, and now people are assigned to a sleep space for a week at a time instead of daily.
“It’s just safer to have [them] always go to the same place – same blanket, same mats, everything,” explained Odell.
Mats are lined with disposable covers, and staff use an electrostatic sprayer to disinfect throughout the day.
NEST is doing its best to keep guests safe inside, but the organization is asking for donations to keep guests safe while they’re outside.
NEST says men’s underwear (size L, XL), hats, gloves, blankets and sleeping bag are in highest demand.
Anyone who wants to make a clothing donation is asked to call Ghent Area Ministry on Colonial Avenue at 757-622-0438.
NEST is also looking for more churches to serve as host shelters and volunteers. Those who are interested should contact Joel Phillip at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Turning people away is probably one of the worst things that can happen to everybody — the volunteer, the guest, everybody,” said Odell.