New Life Covenant Church taking over emergency shelter in Elgin

  • Pastor Abi Raices of New Life Covenant Church stands at the main entrance of First United Methodist Church in Elgin, where Raices' church will take over operations of an emergency winter shelter for the homeless.

      Pastor Abi Raices of New Life Covenant Church stands at the main entrance of First United Methodist Church in Elgin, where Raices' church will take over operations of an emergency winter shelter for the homeless. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/7/2020 5:52 PM

New Life Covenant Church in Elgin is taking over the operations of a winter emergency shelter downtown, but it's unclear if the shelter will continue being "low-threshold," meaning whether it will accept people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The shelter in the basement of First United Methodist Church, 216 E. Highland Ave., is open when it's 15 degrees or colder. Beyond lending the space, which has its own entrance, First United Methodist Church is not involved in the shelter's operations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

New Life Covenant Pastor Abi Raices said his congregation decided to step in and help for the remainder of this winter out of a sense of duty after the nonprofit House of Restoration announced last month it would no longer operate the shelter.

"It would be just irresponsible for us to look away," Raices said. "The plan is to open as soon as possible. I still have to get my head around this. As soon as we feel we have a good team and a good amount of volunteers, we will open."

As for whether the shelter will be low-threshold, "We are working on all the details," Raices said.

The emergency shelter was started a few years ago by a group called The Matthew 25:40 Ministry. The nonprofit House of Restoration, headed by wife-and-husband team Lucy and Pedro Gomez, took over in 2018.

The Gomezes told the Daily Herald in early December they needed more volunteers. During its first two nights in November, the shelter had 48 clients and 68 clients, respectively.

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"House of Restoration stepped down from overseeing the warming shelter to focus on family and growing their church," Pedro Gomez, who is a pastor, said in a statement. "We want to thank First United Methodist Church, Elgin police and especially the volunteers."

Assistant City Manager Laura Valdez said the decision to have New Life Covenant Church take over the shelter came during a meeting Friday. The meeting included five churches and faith-based groups and Elgin's two homeless shelters, the nighttime shelter PADS of Elgin, on the west side of town, and the daytime shelter Wayside Cross Ministries, located just north of downtown, she said.

The city is not directly involved in the operations of the emergency shelter but is invested in making sure things run smoothly. For example, police officers make regular visits when the shelter is open.

House of Restoration left supplies and equipment -- including cots, sheets and blankets -- for the shelter, said the Rev. Richard Carlson, pastor of First United Methodist Church. "(The Gomezes) have been really good people and I've enjoyed working with them," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Carlson said his church has an older congregation. "Just about the only thing we can provide in the way of homeless ministry, besides our soup kettle on Mondays, is that we can provide space. But we don't have the people who can staff (the shelter)."

New Life Covenant has a homeless ministry that includes serving meals on Sundays to people who live in "Tent City," Elgin's outdoor homeless encampment in the woods along the Fox River, Raices said.

The church also owns a small bus that seats about 15 people, so homeless clients can be transported to PADS if the downtown emergency shelter gets too crowded.

First United Methodist Church, New Life Covenant Church, Elgin police and the city manager's office will meet later this week to finalize details, Valdez said.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the emergency winter shelter can email elgin@mynewlife.org.

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