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The Sheltering Tree, Flagler’s Cold-Weather Homeless Shelter, Calls for Your Help

| January 12, 2011

the sheltering tree flagler county homeless shelter bunnell united methodist  church

A quiet refuge in Bunnell, at the First United Methodist Church. (© FlaglerLive)

All of last year, the Sheltering Tree, Flagler County’s only overnight cold-weather shelter for the homeless, opened its doors for 40 nights. On Wednesday evenings, as temperatures were heading into the 20s, the shelter was opening its doors for the 22nd night so far this season. And the winter is just beginning.

“Last year we didn’t open until January 1,” says Carla Traister, the center’s director and a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

To Help The Sheltering Tree:

The shelter opens every night temperatures are forecast to be 40 or below. That’s where temperatures will be through Saturday night, likely ensuring that by week’s end, the shelter will have opened 25 times this season. The center, at the First United Methodist Church of Bunnell at 205 North Pine Street–whose pastor, Rev. Beth Gardner, is a quiet force for good in the county–converts the church’s large Fellowship Hall into a dormitory and cafeteria on needed nights, accommodating up to 32 men and women. It’s the same hall that witnesses weddings, funerals and other gatherings.

When the shelter is open, it’s usually full. Cots provided by the Red Cross are arranged in rows, most, exhausted from days spent in few to no comforts outside, go to sleep after dinner, and the television goes off at 10 p.m. On successively cold nights, guests can put a sign on their cot and know that they’ll have the same cot the following night. But it’s not an all-day shelter: guests are to leave immediately after an early breakfast. It’s not a hotel, either: those who register in the evening but choose to leave the place in the evening, to go out somewhere, will not be allowed back in.

Every Wednesday evening, no matter what the temperature, the shelter hosts its Soul Cafe–a full, hot meal for anyone in the community. That meal, which averages 45 to 50 people a week, and has had up to 70, has been drawing 25 to 50 percent more people than last year. “I don’t know whether it’s because the word is getting out or because we have more people in need,” Traister says.

Kitchen volunteers at the Sheltering Tree. (© FlaglerLive)

The entire operation is run by volunteers. The food is contributed by the volunteers. The clothes and shoes that homeless men and women are able to take are also all donated. But the harsher the season, the greater the needs. This season isn’t harsher merely because of the weather, but because of the economy’s accumulated hardships over the last two to three years. The shelter used to accommodate many more “overflow” guests from the Daytona Beach area, bused here by volunteers from Halifax Ministries when three shelters in Volusia County are at capacity. These days, the Sheltering Tree is seeing a greater proportion of local guests. It does, however, get a monetary contribution for caring for Volusia men and women.

There’s seldom any trouble in the shelter. “You have to be here to appreciate what these people appreciate,” says Charlie Ericksen, one of the core volunteers. More often, it’s medical issues that intervene and require a transport to the local hospital. On one occasion the police did come in following a disturbance, but officers talked with the guests, calmed things down, didn’t take anyone away, and left.

Fellowship Hall\’s many uses: an array of cots and cares. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The Sheltering Tree doesn’t like to refer to the men and women it cares for as “overnighters” or even “homeless.” It refers to them as guests. Calling local guests “residents” of Flagler County would be a misnomer, too: they haveno residence. And Flagler County, particularly Palm Coast, are poorly set up, purposefully or inadvertently, to care for the homeless (although Flagler Palm Coast High School began providing showers once a month for the homeless, and the school’s cosmetology students provide haircuts and other such services, free). Absent other systematic services, the task falls on the Sheltering Tree’s volunteers, who this year have drawn a corp of some 100 individuals organized in teams of five who parcel out the operation’s responsibilities–the regular cooking of evening and morning meals when the shelter is open, the registration of guests, the overnight supervision, which always entails at least two volunteers staying up all night with the guests, the organization and dispensing of clothes, and so on. When all the people who’ve donated some time and effort are included, the number of volunteers climbs to 200. It’s a good year, as far as that’s concerned: Many more people are wanting to help with their time.


But the shelter needs food, clothes, goods of all sorts, especially as the cold weather is taxing its resources more early and more persistently than in the two previous two years it was open. One example: December’s electric bill was $600. There’s also a great deal of wear and tear on the shelter’s resources. The griddle is broken, the washing machine needs work. Cots seem to be breaking often, sometimes one a night, as heavier people use them. They’re expensive: $45 for regular cots, $75 for heavy duty ones.

Below is the shelter’s wish list. Phone numbers and the address of where to drop off needs are in the small box to the left, at the beginning of this story.

(Click on the image for larger view or, below, click on the printable pdf version of the list.)

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7 Responses for “The Sheltering Tree, Flagler’s Cold-Weather Homeless Shelter, Calls for Your Help”

  1. rita gombar says:

    thanks so much for posting this. it took me less thant an hour to run around the house and collect things that were on the list: things that we had too many of or hadn’t worn in a while or could do without or could always buy when we needed them. we found coats, sweatshirts, new underwear & socks, paperback books, pads & pens, canned goods, toothbrushes and toothpaste, towels, dtergent, chapstick — all kinds of things. i was amazed at all the “stuff” that was sitting in our cabinets and closets that we could do without and others truly needed.

    so thank you for bringing this to our attention….

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Sheltering Tree started out donating food and trying to help people. It has now become a nightmare in town. They have been busing people in from Daytona, St. Augustine and God knows where else calling it a homeless shelter as well. I’m all for helping people but this has gotten out of control. They are basically housing people there not only on cold nights but they are hanging out at the church on the grounds all day and night.. Most of these people are not just families in need but the same people you have seen around town in the past who panhandle hang out on the streets, steal from people if the opportunity is there and always have money for cigaretts, beer, and drugs. This is giving downtown Bunnell a blighted image and they should not be allowed to operate in this fashion. Do they have a liscene to do this? Probably not. No other centers that help people allow this to go on. They are not allowed on the grounds day and night. The police department has made a continued efforts to stop drugs, ect. that is going here but the residents of the area must speak up and not be afraid to put a stop to this. A better facility could be found for this and it has been brought to my attention this is in the works.
    Would the residents, City Manager, Commisioners, and all concerned citizens please speak up in trying to find a more appropriate place for this to be located.

    • bob fey says:

      maybe you could give these people a job help them get on there feet they need to live to not all are o drugs they need help found this sight looking to help a homeless man and how to find help he worked all his life has many years with ge and now needs help what does one do hes not a bum needs help

  3. Captain Courageous says:

    While hearts may be in the right place I don’t see how any research was conducted. It would not take much to ride down to Daytona and see the problems they have and have had for years dealing with the homeless who have taken over the parks, set up camps in the woods, have committed numerous crimes, most are intoxicated on a daily basis. They flock to Daytona because there are services there. Now there is a service here. You know that saying “If you build it they will come”?
    In time you will not see local families getting the help that the original idea proposes. You will see the same people “Traveling..Broke Veteran…Anything Helps…God Bless” who are not looking to help themselves. The Bunnell Police Officers will soon be busy dealing with all the problems associated with transients and it will take time away from other issues residents may have. Just ask Daytona Beach, apparently no one else has…

  4. Sal Pilchard says:

    Captain Courageous, you are so prejudices and it is easy to see. What fear creates makes no sense and you have so much fear.

  5. J.J. Graham says:

    You’re so right Sal. I’m going to look around and see what I have to donate. Desperation fuels the urge to commit the crimes the Capn’ writes about. These homeless people are our fellow humans and need to be treated with concerned compassion. I have friends who have college degrees that are having trouble finding adequate employment these days. Everyone needs help from time to time.

  6. Melody says:

    I am confident that the Board of Directors of the Sheltering Tree would be thrilled to be able to afford the MORE APPROPRIATE place to house the homeless that one comment mentions. Unfortunately, right now that is not an option and the temperatures have been falling. At the moment, thank the Lord for Pastor Beth and her church and their willingness to walk the walk.

    If we would just remember the words BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I, we may be more sympathetic to their circumstances. In addition to that, if everyone of us who has the luxury of a roof over our head, a job or income to keep it there, as well as our physical and mental health, would try to assist in this ministry, we would leave there to go to our warm homes with a whole new appreciation of our own blessings.

    Many of the people concerned with the plight of the homeless are or have been business people and
    can certainly understand concerns in Bunnell. There is a meeting on Monday night at the Govt. Center, and if the individuals with issues would come and represent themselves, possibly things can be worked out for the good of all concerned. Maybe everyone can get on the same team.


    See you at the meeting!

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