Missouri church starts city’s first homeless shelter
Shana McGarrah woke up in the middle of the night on 19 December 2022, unable to escape the burdened feeling for the homeless in her community of Joplin, Missouri. Soon, many would be stuck outside in dangerously cold temperatures with an impending storm.
That wake-up call led to the opening of Joplin’s first permanent homeless shelter on 4 January 2023. The shelter is located at Joplin First Church of the Nazarene. Twice a week, the church will open for the homeless population to eat hot meals, take showers, get out of the elements, and get new clothing.
“A couple of guys said they hadn’t eaten in three days,” McGarrah said. “Another told us he was eating out of trash cans. There is no need for that. We are called to love people and our neighbors, and [the homeless are] part of that.”
In addition to the necessities, the church is committed to helping homeless community members prepare for job interviews, get the necessary identification such as driver’s licenses, and even provide transportation to job interviews.
McGarrah, lead pastor of Joplin First, is accustomed to receiving late-night wake up calls from a parishioner in need or someone requesting a pastor at a local hospital, but on 19 December, the call came from above.
“The Lord just began to break my heart for the folks that would have to endure the cold weather,” McGarrah said.
Over the next several days, the temperature in Joplin would drop more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) as part of Winter Storm Elliott, which brought deadly cold to many across North America.
McGarrah felt the Lord was calling on her and Joplin First to help those who would be put in danger, so she called the church board. That phone call led Joplin First to open its doors as a warming center from 22 December through Christmas Day.
Over 100 people were served during the four days the warming center was open. A man who visited the center during the first day helped a volunteer find the places the homeless had been sleeping.
“They were going down trails and begging people to come in and get out of the brutal cold,” McGarrah said.
When the warming center closed on the final day, McGarrah didn’t feel like it was time to walk away from this ministry. McGarrah and other volunteers had heard and seen too much over those four days to call their efforts quits. So, McGarrah, the church board, and some volunteers started creating plans to open a permanent homeless shelter.
Joplin First is a smaller church with little wiggle room financially. McGarrah said the church had just $150 in their “Love Ministries” budget when they started the warming center, but the congregation was committed to the burden God placed on them and trusted that God would provide for them. And He has.
A local organization called Food Not Bombs began donating food to help feed people. Other organizations donated soap and towels for showers.
“We just watched God take this, and it just exploded,” McGarrah said. “People are just excited. We’ve seen God do miracles.”