ChristNet Services is a homeless shelter in Taylor, Michigan, just twenty minutes south of Detroit. The agency’s history goes back to August 1992, when a young minister at St Paul’s United Church of Christ began getting calls from people in need of food and shelter. After learning that other local churches were getting the same kind of calls they formed a committee to try and handle the problem. The solution they ultimately came to was a rotating shelter, in which guests were housed in a different church each week. That first year, they had eight churches in the network and operated from January to the end of February, serving two to three guests a night and using a local ambulance service to transport them to and from the churches.
Over time, they were able to expand their shelter and keep it open from mid-October to mid- May. Their network of churches grew to 50, with 33 host churches and 17 support churches providing food, volunteers, money, and transportation. Together, they are able to serve an average of 27 guests a night.
ChristNet has three full time staff and a part time van driver. Two of their staff and a board member are also former clients of the agency, and the board member even created a CD called “Hymns for the Homeless” as a fundraiser. They operate on a budget of $225,000 a year and lease space from the Taylor Church of Nazarene to run a day center where the guests can wash up, get something to eat, or use a computer.
Their mission is to meet their guests where they are, to help them achieve the goals they have for themselves, and, where possible, set new goals. While faith is an important component of ChristNet’s identity, it’s not something they force upon their guests. They have bible study during their day time program, and guests are free to participate if they choose. The same is true of the churches, which often offer devotions, bible study, or even concerts to guests who want to participate.
With COVID, ChristNet had to undergo a drastic reimagining of their program, as churches quickly decided they no longer felt comfortable hosting. From April through August they leased space in a building owned by one of their host churches and turned it into a 24 hour shelter supervised by a combination of ChristNet staff and staff from the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency. Starting in September, ChristNet moved back into their old building and re- opened it as a day center, while Wayne Metro worked out an agreement with a local hotel. The guests stay at the hotel at night and Wayne Metro provides staff to manage things on site. The host churches continue to play an important role in providing meals, toiletries, and other things needed by the guests.
It’s been a difficult transition, but Executive Director, Debbie Petri, refused to turn her back on her clients, and the host churches are looking forward to the day they can get back to work. Website: www.christnetservices.org