Personal experiences inspire new warming center

The Center of Hope Ministry warming shelter, held at Vineyard Community Church, is located in Northview Manhattan. (Benjamin Voller | Collegian Media Group)

The Center of Hope Ministry opened its warming center, located at Vineyard Community Church, on Nov. 11 to offer homeless individuals a warm and safe place to stay overnight, Will Parish, president of The Center of Hope Ministry, said.

The Be Able website describes itself as a daytime center where individuals receive access to food, computers, medical and mental health resources and housing assistance. 

“I pick people up at Be Able Community Center at 4:00 p.m. and I take people over,” Parish said. “It gives individuals a warm place to be at nighttime when the weather is below 40 degrees. I’ve coordinated meals that are being dropped off for individuals that are hungry. We’ve had sleeping bags donated to us for individuals to use.”

Parish said his own experience with addiction and homelessness inspired him to create the warming center.

“I spent nine and a half years trying to care for my children with somebody who was very childish herself,” Parish said. “In that process, it got to a point where I had to leave … I found a job in Portland and I moved out there, but I was so broken when I got there that I tried to fill this hole in my heart with something … and I started using. That got really bad really fast — within a year I was in prison.”

Parish said after leaving prison 13 months later, he had no support and nowhere to go. 

“I got back out on the streets, and still had this hole,” Parish said. “I had no hope, I didn’t care about anything, nothing mattered … I started using again, and this time, I got even deeper into drugs. Dec. 28 I was released. By Dec. 30 I was sticking a needle in the arm — I was in a really dark place.”

Parish said he wants to be there for people, and help them avoid getting into the same pit he fell into. 

“Coming here and looking in the faces of people who are dying, just pleading out for help — if I can be that person for somebody to lean on … I want to be that person,” Parish said. “I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Parish said he can empathize with the people he helps.

“What you know about addiction, you know from a book,” Parish said. “You learned it in a classroom. You don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a drug addict. I can resonate a lot more with people because I’ve been a drug addict. If God can change my life, he can do it for anybody.”

Parish said a big reason why people are hesitant to get involved with projects such as the warming center is because they are not aware of the homelessness issue.

“It’s like it gets swept under the rug, and we put on blinders to the fact that there’s real people out here who are struggling and who need a little bit of help,” Parish said.

Annie Hennen, freshman in communication sciences and disorders, said homelessness in Manhattan is less noticeable. 

“I don’t see a lot of homeless people on the streets,” Hennen said. “Just because Manhattan isn’t a big city, it seems like it’s less of an issue.”

Hennen said bringing attention to homelessness in Manhattan and providing resources like the warming center is extremely helpful.

“You could tell someone to go get a job, but if places aren’t going to hire them, then that’s not practical,” Hennen said. “You could be trying so hard to make your life better, but sometimes things just don’t work out your way, and it’s harder for some people to pick themselves back up.”

Scott Voos, executive director of Be Able Community Center, worked closely with Parish to bring the warming center to life. 

Voos said the lack of resources available for homeless individuals in Manhattan inspired him to found Be Able and to help out with the warming center.

“There’s an extreme lack of supportive housing in the Manhattan area, meaning there’s hardly any week-to-week living arrangements for individuals,” Voos said. “We’ve discovered that there’s a big need for a warming shelter in Manhattan.”

Voos said he felt it is his responsibility to help alleviate this need.

“We have over forty people that access our service every day. Over half of them are homeless,” Voos said. “When I lock the doors at 4 o’clock, and I look back as I’m walking to my car, and people are just standing under our awning, it really breaks my heart that I can’t take everybody with me or leave my doors open all night long … So of course we jumped at the opportunity to help Will and The Center of Hope.”

Voos said helping those in need doesn’t end with simply giving them a place to sleep. 

“We help people get to their next step in life,” Voos said. “There were several people who were homeless, but ended up putting their life back together.”

Parish said the most rewarding part of creating The Center of Hope and the warming center is seeing the long-term effects it has on the people it helps. 

“The people that were using the center last year are doing better this year,” Parish said. “We walk through recovery with them. They’re going to church with us now. I think it’s amazing that we can show that type of love, the same type of love that Jesus would show to anybody.”

Parish said it is important for people to eliminate the stigma around homelessness and do something to help.

“Get involved,” Parish said. “Come in here and have a conversation with someone. You’ll come to find out they’re not as bad as you think they are. They’re just people like us, having a hard time in life, who may not have the tools that we have to be able to cope with problems. Why not come out here and try to help people get the healthcare they need, the mental care they need, instead of sitting back and watching?”

Parish said the best way to help out someone in need is to show them kindness.

“The smallest amount of compassion can change somebody’s perspective on life,” Parish said. “A lot of times why people don’t have hope is because there’s nobody that wants to help them. They’re still human.” 

To volunteer at Be Able or make a donation, contact Will Parish at 785-410-1273 or visit the Volunteer tab on the Be Able website.