It’s OK to let people in at odd hours. Don’t turn them away if they’re intoxicated. The coffee is always decaf.
These are just a few pieces of advice Molly McGregor conveyed to volunteers at First United Methodist Church in Carson City on Oct. 17. She works with Night Off the Streets (NOTS), a nonprofit that provides floor space and sleeping bags for anyone who needs them at four local churches between Nov. 1 and March 31.
The group was launched in 2017 by Deacon Craig LaGier from the St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church Community after four people died of hypothermia sleeping on the street in Carson City—which does not have a designated homeless shelter.
According to the NOTS website, no one has died from exposure to the cold in Carson City since.
“Most of the time, things are quiet, and your shift is pretty mellow,” McGregor told the volunteers. But not having a place to live tends to be traumatic. Sometimes people arrive unable to access their medications. Other times, she said, people arrive at their wits end. Just in case, her presentation included a crash course in conflict de-escalation protocols and when to call 911.
Longtime volunteer Daphne DeLeon described a typical night: “A lot of people are sleeping. Some people are watching TV on their phones, or some people are reading.”
Jodi Miller—who is pursuing a social-work degree and manages the NOTS shelters—said that about 35 clients arrive on an average night, with the number of people sometimes reaching 50.
The churches need their space back by 7 a.m., when mass starts, so McGregor cautioned the volunteers—who work in pairs in four-hour shifts—that it might feel heartbreaking to show people the door at 6 a.m., when it can still be quite cold.
The group’s next goal, said Miller, is to build a permanent shelter.