Samaritan House, Denver Rescue Mission team up to shelter homeless during blizzard

When a massive snowstorm ripped through Denver on March 13, residents took shelter in their homes, keeping warm and avoiding the dangerous conditions outside.

Those who didn’t have that luxury — particularly the city’s homeless — were left to face the elements. Although many sought shelter at the Denver Rescue Mission, the building lost power and left hundreds of women without electricity or heat.

The team at Samaritan House knew they needed to act.

“It’s just something you do as a service community,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelter Services at Samaritan House. “You come together to take care of the less fortunate and those that are in need.”

Samaritan House opened its doors four hours earlier than normal to accommodate the women and shield them from the blizzard.

“We had women that came in, and they were just soaking wet,” said Lisa Cooper, Director of Operations at Samaritan House. “We had to replace all their clothing and get them warm.”

Sinnett explained how gracious the women were for the extra help.

“They’re dealing with a lot of challenges just being homeless,” he said, “and then you throw a storm like that on top of it — it’s very stressful.

“We just brought them in, loved on them a little bit, made sure they had hot chocolate and coffee and food to eat,” he said. “We got them out of the elements and got them in a nice, safe place.

“We do that every night,” he added. “But what made it more different was the fact that we had the elements fighting against us.”

When a blizzard hit Denver on March 13, Samaritan House went above and beyond to make sure local homeless people in need were safe and warm. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

Just a few hours later, the Denver Rescue Mission was still out of power and short on meals for that night’s dinner for the men it serves. The Samaritan House staff stepped up yet again and was able to provide the Mission with 450 meals.

“The Rescue Mission would’ve done the same thing for us,” said Sinnett. “That’s just the cooperation and partnership we have with them.”

On top of everything, Samaritan House, with help from the St. Francis Center and the city of Denver, was able to transport the women it serves to its Smith Road shelter, where space was made, and beds, cots and mats were utilized for everyone who needed a place to sleep.

Cooper explained that despite the treacherous weather conditions, staff members came up big — and did so with a positive attitude.

“Our maintenance guy shoveled snow for five hours straight and didn’t complain,” she said. “It was just amazing. There was nobody arguing — there was just people being present.”

 

Sinnett, who spent the day welcoming women at the Smith Road center, saw the same positivity both in the employees and the homeless.

Denver’s winter conditions can add even more stress to those experiencing homelessness. Shelters like Samaritan House and Denver Rescue Mission provide warm food and a place to avoid the harsh elements. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

“Everybody was smiling,” he said. “Nobody was stressed out. We knew we had a task ahead of us, but everybody had a ‘can do’ spirit, and we did it.”

Cooper was inspired by the work two different shelters with the same mission were able to accomplish together.

“It’s refreshing to know that we are now sincerely working as a team, and it really is a team effort to serve the homeless population of Denver,” she said.

For the Samaritan House team, it simply confirms why they do what they do.

“I’m really proud of my staff,” said Sinnett. “It just refreshes the reason we’re here, and that is to serve the poor and those in need.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash