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SHELTER FROM THE STORM The Holy Name of Jesus, Redlands, has started a new ministry to shelter homeless women during the colder months. LEFT: Shelter coordinator Rick Ferguson says that the ministry aims to serve both body and soul. RIGHT: Shelter guest Christina Yglesias rests inside the parish hall.

By Natalie Romano

At night when you double bolt the doors of your home and snuggle under the thick blankets of your bed, you feel safe and warm. When you live on the street, and your lock is a tent zipper and your heat source is a sleeping bag, there’s no guarantee you’ll wake up in the morning. This is the harsh reality for the homeless women of Redlands.

“I’ve been shot. I’ve been raped. I’ve been through a lot,” said Tabitha Davis. “It’s hard.”

Now Davis and others are finding some reprieve through The Holy Name of Jesus parish’s new Winter Emergency Night Shelter Ministry. The service, which started in the new year and runs until May 1, serves women who need a warm and welcoming place to sleep. The parish had previously run a men’s shelter but after other facilities closed, there was nowhere for women to go.

“The Gospel is meant to be lived,” said Sharon Callon-Schwartz, Director of Mission Advancement at The Holy Name of Jesus. “We saw a need in the community and wanted to step up. We’re people of action, action based out of love.”

The homeless women, referred to as “guests,” share a room inside the Columbia Street parish hall. They’re given simple bedding, including a mat, as well as a tub to store their belongings. They experience a night when they don’t have to be on edge as well as breakfast and dinner.

“I get panicky,” explained Davis, who normally shares a tent with a friend. “If I don’t know you, I can’t stop watching you because I don’t trust you. [Here I wake up], and I thank God I get to see another beautiful day.”

After sleeping in the hall, Christina Yglesias rolls up her numerous blankets. The longtime Redlands resident was baptized just steps away at the parish, the same parish her family has attended for generations. Yglesias, like Davis, normally lives in a tent and said she’s grateful to the church for the safety and the smiles.

“It’s just a load off the shoulder,” said Yglesias. “It feels good to see everyone’s smiling faces. [The volunteers] are so happy. I can be in a bad mood and seeing them turns my mood around.”

That’s what shelter coordinator and longtime parishioner Rick Ferguson wants to hear. He makes plain the ministry aims to nourish both body and soul.

“They feel God here. They feel love here,” said Ferguson. “It gives them hope and it builds their dignity.”

The ministry is getting assistance from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Parishioners support the idea of a shelter and are generous with financial donations, say church leaders. Community groups like the Moms Club of Redlands help staff the hall at night. Callon-Schwartz, who has worked at the parish for over 15 years, thinks the shelter could change hearts and minds.

“Sometimes people have misconceptions that we [Catholics] are all about rules … but Jesus is at the core of what we do,” she said. “We’re welcoming people into our home. Maybe that’s a different way to think about the Catholic Church.”

Volunteers work in pairs and must include a female. Ferguson said there have been no issues with volunteer or guest safety and COVID-19 health measures have been put into place.

Currently the shelter is drawing small numbers of women, only five to seven per night. A handful more can be accommodated but the fewer women there are, the more attention they receive.

Local Pastor Raymond Morehouse, PhD, of Inherit the Earth Outreach, and Lorrie Hinkleman, PhD, retired from San Bernardino County Public Health Department, are contributing their expertise in government aid. They sit down with the women individually and navigate the paperwork involved with obtaining housing. They also assist the women with other needs ranging from rehab to resumes.

“[The guests] tell us what they want and we create a map to start helping them,” said Ferguson. “When the season’s done, we basically want the women off the street and into some safe environment and moving in a forward direction.”

Davis, who recently heard about the ministry, came for the food and shelter but would now like some counseling. She reveals that she struggles with alcohol and drinks to numb her pain, the pain of witnessing too many drug deaths.

“I see kids hitting fentanyl. I just lost my baby’s daddy to the same thing,” said Davis. “I lost three (people) back to back, including my brother Teddy.” She choked up and repeated his name: “Teddy.”

Davis fears her two children will get trapped in the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. For now, she’s happy they’re living in a more rural part of the state with their grandmother. Yglesias has been a regular at the shelter and is already working through her list of goals.

“[The volunteers] helped me get my I.D. already,” said Yglesias. “I want to go back to work. I want to be able to be around my grandson and have my own place. Maybe even go back to school.”

Sometimes the homeless just need a little boost to get back on their feet; other times they may falter and have to try again, said Ferguson. In those moments, he relies on his faith.

“You get frustrated, certainly, when you see one progress then go the other way,” admitted Ferguson. “But you got to go back to the Gospel. We’re all sinners and we’re not perfect. That’s okay. What we say to that person is we’re still going to be here. We’re going to walk with you.”

One of the challenges is that the shelter is only open at night. During the day, it’s back to the streets. Volunteers point out that women in particular are often forced into prostitution or mistreated by partners who don’t want them to better their situation and move on. That drives Ferguson’s wife, Kellie, to be a part of this ministry.

“If [these women] leave, they get threatened. If they return, it’s not pretty. It’s not good,” said Kellie Ferguson. “I just want to get them off the streets, get them away from their abusive boyfriends.”

The Fergusons, married over two decades, say it’s their privilege to help the homeless. They’re involved with numerous ministries like Feed The Hungry and Refresh and Renew Showers. In 2019, the couple was honored by the City of Redlands for their ongoing efforts. Hinkleman has been recognized as well. As Davis left the shelter and said good-bye, Rick Ferguson cheerfully shouted out, “l love you.”

“We want them to understand it’s a different kind of love,” he said. “What’s out there is the flesh love, the drug love. This is unconditional love.”

The Winter Emergency Night Shelter Ministry needs more overnight volunteers. If interested, please call or text Rick Ferguson at (909) 362-2819.

Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.