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Friday, January 26, 2018

Churches around the country are opening their doors


Churches answer the call to shelter the homeless
Churches around the country are opening their doors to those experiencing homelessness, offering them sanctuary within church walls.

Guests pull blankets tightly around them, covering feet and hands cracked and dry from the cold. For a few hours they find rest and a decent sleep, something that living on the street rarely provides. Today they can find refuge in a place that welcomes them. They can stretch out on benches and rest. Except where they sleep is not on benches but on pews in St. Boniface Church in San Francisco.

The image is striking--a city's homeless population asleep on church pews, finding sanctuary in a church's nave. This program at St. Boniface is part of the Gubbio Project, which provides blankets, hygiene kits, and socks to around 150 people who rest in the church each weekday.

The guests from the San Francisco streets are neither asked questions nor forced to fill out forms. They are able to sleep, warm up in the winter, or join the daily Mass. Most of all, the guests are welcome. On the street, many of the people experiencing homelessness are ignored or even abused, but they are welcome in St. Boniface.

The Gubbio Project began when people living on the street told church members they needed a place to stay during the day, says Doug Pierce, Gubbio Project board chair. Welcoming marginalized people to the holiest part of the church is a special spiritual element of the program, which operates in two churches, he says.

"It's important to us that the housed and the unhoused share a space together," Pierce says. Gubbio's goal is to build understanding and community between the unhoused and the housed, two groups that often hold misconceptions about the other. For example, the housed often do not understand the daily trials faced by those living on the street. They do not understand what it takes to find proper food and shelter, day after day. But interactions between the two groups, even as simple as a short conversation, bridge that divide.

"The whole sanctuary becomes a tabernacle when it's filled with the poor," Pierce says. "The sanctuary is where Christ is." The Gubbio Project is more than a humanitarian mission; it is a fundamentally Christian endeavor. And the program is not alone: Churches around the country are opening their doors to offer shelter to those in need. Programs like the Gubbio Project offer a unique service. Offering sanctuary in the same place the congregation gathers to worship is a direct response to the gospel call to invite strangers in and to give them something to drink and eat. 

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