MARYSVILLE - After finding five homeless men sleeping on his front porch one cold morning in late November, Father Dwight Lewis decided St. Mary’s Parish should open a homeless shelter.
On Jan. 9, the Friday-night shelter opened its doors in the Marysville parish’s hall, and four people took refuge there. “The second week we had 14, including a family of seven, and 10 people slept there the third week,” said Father Lewis, the parish’s priest administrator. “You can believe that word will spread and we’ll soon have more,”
St. Mary’s is offering its services even when winter temperatures are above freezing. But it was a spell of 20-degree temperatures in November that made the need for a shelter evident. After noises woke Father Lewis about 2 a.m., he discovered the five men curled up on his porch, using pieces of cardboard for a windbreak. Near daybreak, the priest brewed coffee and made sandwiches for the men to take when they left.
Then two homeless people were found sleeping in the church’s dumpster, and others were seen trying to keep warm in a wooded area adjacent to the parish cemetery. A man with crutches was found sleeping behind bushes next to the church.
“The reality is that there are many homeless people who need shelter in Marysville,” Father Lewis said. “You can’t just send them away. Everyone has a right to be warm and have a place to sleep.”
Father Lewis announced at Masses that he planned to open a shelter on the parish campus. Helping the homeless is part of Christian service, he told parishioners, noting that other Catholic parishes host shelters. Father Lewis said he didn’t want to be part of a church “that didn’t take care of these least of our brethren,” adding, “it’s not for us to tell them to get help from some other church ... there but for the grace of God might go any of us.”
Establishing the shelter involved many people, including Maria Acuario, president of the parish council. At Father Lewis’s request, Acuario contacted Everett Gospel Mission for guidance, checked with county agencies and the mayor about permits, and arranged for Marysville police to check the shelter during regular patrols.
Besides a safe, warm place to sleep, the shelter offers an evening meal and breakfast on Saturday morning. Knights of Columbus Council 8763 agreed to provide cooked meals; the Knights and other parishioners were recruited to staff the shelter throughout the night. Parishioners also have donated jackets, sweaters and toiletries for the shelter guests.
On the shelter’s first night, one man passed up the offer of food, saying, “I’ve been so cold for so long, all I want is a warm place to sleep,” recounted parishioner Rudy Vital, grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 7863.
“The poor will always be with us,” Father Lewis told his parishioners. “We don’t want somebody to die here in freezing temperatures, especially a homeless woman with a child.”
This is an updated and corrected version of the story that originally was posted Jan. 16.