Ann Arbor church's warming center offers art gallery and more for unhoused people

Among the numerous warming centers providing relief from winter weather in Washtenaw County this year, Ann Arbor's Journey of Faith Christian Church is also offering food, clothes, an art gallery, and more for local unhoused people.

Journey of Faith, like other local churches, hosts its warming center through the Washtenaw Area Respite for the Marginalized (WARM) program. Journey of Faith hosts the warming center in December and March, allowing unhoused individuals and families to warm up inside and out. The church offers physical relief from the cold, while volunteers serve warm meals and coffee. 

Matt Hoostal, treasurer at Journey of Faith, explains that the church offers much more than a warming center. 

"Like a lot of churches and other organizations, we have a food pantry, a free clothes store where people can come in and pick out clothing," he says. 

But Journey of Faith also offers free laundry and showers, and hosts an art studio and gallery (managed by A Servant's Heart Community) where guests have the option of displaying and selling their work. In addition to meeting basic needs, Hoostal says the church also offers "dignity, both in terms of personal hygiene and having a creative outlet, and a source of economic empowerment."

Programming and services for the unhoused community are run by Homeless Ministry Coordinator Rose Marcum-Raugh.

"I thought I was going into the medical field to help people, but the universe or a higher power or however you see it had other plans," said Marcum-Raugh. "I’m still helping people, just in a different way than I thought."

Marcum-Raugh has a vision of Journey of Faith becoming a resource hub to make the journey to more permanent housing less stressful. Hoostal calls this vision a "continuum of care," the process of not only helping individuals and families out of crisis, but building a community of peers with similar lived experiences to help them stay out of crisis.

Hoostal says traditional local shelter systems, like the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County at the Delonis Center in Ann Arbor, often serve a much larger population than churches like Journey of Faith, and thus are unable to provide adequate resources to all who walk through their doors. Individuals with behavioral issues, a history of addiction, or service animals, as well as families with adult children who can’t be separated, often find that locations like Delonis can be "prohibitive," according to Hoostal.

"The problem is scale," he says. "Because the shelter system is dealing with so many people, they have to have more regulations in place."

However, he says service providers "need to help each other get through these inequities together."

"It’s not that we’re doing something better than shelter systems. It’s that they’re dealing with such a large number of people, that there is a hierarchy and maybe they have to have the hierarchy," Hoostal says.

Both Journey of Faith and MISSION-A2 are always accepting donations of basic needs items like hygiene and laundry products, "camp-ready" foods like instant noodles, and clothing, as well as individuals looking to donate their time in the form of volunteering. More information is available at Journey of Faith's website.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo courtesy of Journey of Faith Christian Church.