Safe to Sleep operates every night of the year at a local church and serves an average of 30-35 homeless women at a time. The program gives the women, 18 and older, a safe place to lay their heads. But it can't operate without volunteers.
Volunteer coordinator, Jessica Luraas, with Council of Churches of the Ozarks, said it’s a fairly easy job—volunteers (men, women or couples) go through training before they start. The hard part is seeing the need "and not realizing how much need there is, and, you know, if you have an empathetic heart, it can really pull at you," she said.
Despite that, being a Safe to Sleep volunteer is extremely rewarding, according to Luraas. She said the experience can be life-changing.
"Really, it gives you a perspective on strength and endurance and how blessed you are. You know, when you go in there and serve and you get to go home to your bed and your home, it really changes how you look at what you have in your own life," she said.
Volunteers arrive at 7, a half hour before the homeless women, during the week and prepare snacks and coffee. Once the women arrive, they check them in, serve them and help with any needs they might have. Hours are one hour earlier on weekends. One volunteer sleeps for four hours while the other is available to the women and makes sure they're comfortable, and then they switch. The women leave by 8 a.m.
A caseworker is available each evening during the week to help the women with things like housing and healthcare (both mental and physical). "This is a very direct way to support a program that is trying to address homelessness," said Luraas. "We're not just there to provide shelter. We're there to get them out of homelessness."
According to Ramona Baker, director of Safe to Sleep, the average age of those they serve is 43. Sixty percent of them have a diagnosed mental illness. Each story is different, but "they're pretty ordinary people," she said. Some may need a place to stay because they're passing through, their car broke down, and they can't afford a hotel. Others may have lost their job and can't afford housing.
To find out more about volunteering at Safe to Sleep, email firstname.lastname@example.org.