Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Homeless Shelter continues to grow in community

Monday, March 4, 2019

Since opening last winter, the St. James A.M.E. church homeless shelter has only grown, housing more than 169 different people overnight this winter.

Pastor at St. James and founder of the homeless shelter Renita Green said many of those people return frequently. Green and other members of the staff have been known to drive around Cape Girardeau seeking out people who need a place to sleep that night.

“When it’s cold you walk fast because you are getting somewhere; when you don’t have anywhere to get you’re just dragging your feet. I just stop and ask, ‘Are you safe sheltered for the night?’ and if they’re not, I take them to the church,” Green said.

Green updates her Facebook following by posting videos of herself going out on rounds and finding people in need. Green said the shelter averages roughly 20 people nightly and has had as many as 29 people one night this winter. However, Green said a lot of the people who come through don’t stay overnight. The shelter allows people to shower, enjoy a meal as they serve dinner every night and just hang out when people need somewhere to be warm.

Despite what Green calls “an overwhelming outpour of community support,” including the donation of a TV from Best Buy, one of the shelter’s biggest challenges is trying to find volunteers who can stay overnight.

Since its inception, a number of Southeast faculty members have volunteered at the shelter including professors Debbie Lee-Distefano, Tamara Zellars Buck and Audrey Jerrolds. Green said when she first started the shelter some others in the community were of the belief it was not an essential need in Cape Girardeau.

“I kept being told that we don’t have a homeless problem, I just knew that wasn’t true,” Green said. “The need was here, and it just wasn’t being met.”

Currently the next closest shelter to St. James, 516 North Street, is in Delta Missouri, roughly 20 miles away.

Green said in filling the void to solve the issues of people without shelter in Cape Girardeau she was met with many problems from city officials. So instead of waiting to get clearance to shift the church into a functioning shelter, James and the staff at the shelter never even asked.

“I think when you have a conviction, If you feel strongly about your mission, you don’t ask for permission — you ask for partners,” Green said.

Veteran volunteer member Leslie Washington, who has been a member of the church for all five years she has been a resident of the community, said Green is the driving force behind the shelter.

“When the pastor told me about it, I was glad to be a part of it,” Washington said.” If I can be a part of something where I know these people are safe, warm, and can take a hot shower, that makes me feel good.”

Green said she hopes to do this as long as she can, and as long as she is pastor of St. James.

For more information on the shelter, and how to help out or volunteer, check out their Facebook Page.