MANISTEE — ECHO His Love will be sheltering Manistee’s homeless population at its main campus this winter.
The ministry organization requested a Temporary Active Permit from Manistee City Council on Tuesday to allow homeless people to shelter at its main campus, located at 525 Michael St., from Nov. 2 to April 2. Council approved the permit by a unanimous vote.
“We are a Christian ministry that strives to treat every person with love, hope and dignity,” Robin Paulus, ECHO His Love executive director, said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Paulus added that, on average, 70% of the homeless people ECHO His Love shelters attain a stable home by the end of their time with the organization.
In previous years, Manistee churches have rotated sheltering homeless people during the winter, but concern about the coronavirus has lead Safe Harbor, the organization in charge of sheltering, to designate one spot for sheltering.
“Last year when we had to adhere to the requirements of our government, it became a very difficult program to run,” Safe Harbor director Lisa Clarke said at the meeting. “I lost volunteers because most of my volunteers are in the senior range. They chose to stay home as well for fear of (COVID-19) and I understood that.”
Paulus read aloud to the council a letter she wrote in response to a man who expressed concern about the plan to shelter homeless at the ECHO His Love campus.
She said ECHO His Love has been working with Safe Harbor since 2009. That year, half of the homeless men they served were veterans.
Paulus added that all of the homeless people will undergo background checks by the law officer on duty. They will check in from 6-8 p.m. each night and will be required to leave by 8 a.m. the following day. They are served dinner and have scheduled smoke breaks, but are permitted outside only with supervision until they exit the following morning.
Paulus said people will only enter the shelter after 8 p.m. if they have scheduled doing so with Safe Harbor officials due to work or an appointment or if a police officer escorts them to the shelter.
With social distancing restrictions, the shelter can house a maximum of 10 women and 10 men, Paulus said. Average nights in the past have meant sheltering 11 to 15 people.
“We know that it’s not a permanent solution but it’ll help people stay warm and sheltered this winter so we don’t find our neighbors frozen on the streets,” she said.
Several Manistee church leaders spoke in favor of approving the permit at the meeting, including Joy Smith with Manistee United Methodist Church, Shayne Machen with Christian Faith Church International and Joyce Reed with Faith Covenant Church.
A woman who described herself as a grandmother who has been homeless also spoke. She said she stayed with her grandchildren through Safe Harbor in 2012 and again for the past two years.
“They‘ve really helped us out as a community for homeless people — and we just need help,” she said. “We’re willing to do anything we have to to get our help that we need.”