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Uniting To Shelter Homeless

'Hypothermia outreach' program to start in February.

In addition to marking the civil rights leader's birthday Sunday night, the Rev. Keary Kincannon, pastor, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, and VIC co-chair, used the occasion to announce a new initiative by the 30-year-old Mount Vernon Interfaith Coalition known as "VIC Hypothermia Outreach Program." It is designed to bring the homeless in from winter's cold.

"I like to think of us as putting God's love into the community. The shelters are either full or running at capacity and last year three people died by freezing to death in the county because they couldn't get into a shelter," Kincannon told the crowd at Mount Vernon's Bethlehem Baptist Church.

"We need to make sure no one dies this year because they could not find shelter. In that light, we have volunteered Rising Hope Church on Russell Road to serve as a hypothermia shelter," he said. "But, we need volunteers from all of our churches. This shelter will operate from February through March, our normally coldest months. Homeless people can come there and stay from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each night," he said.

Kincannon explained that there is a need for six to 10 volunteers each evening to help professional staff that will be serving at Rising Hope. "Our vision for this trial project is simple: 'Sixty Days, Zero Deaths,'" he said.

THE PROGRAM CANNOT begin until volunteers are trained and in place, according to Kincannon. "At this time we are envisioning VIC member faith-based groups and organizations taking responsibility for one day per week for the duration of the program. Or, they can team up when necessary so that two groups can share a day and be responsible for all the components every other week," he said.

Each church or faith-based organization is being asked to provide team leaders for their volunteers, who will assist in providing and preparation of food as well performing specific tasks for the homeless. Organizations are also requested to make donations of limited supplies to include board games, videos, cleaning kits and overnight essentials for personal hygiene, according to Susan Bentley, a local volunteer with the homeless and experienced volunteer manager.

Training sessions have been scheduled for Jan. 21 and 22 at Rising Hope Church, 8220 Russell Road. "It is critical that each supporting church begin their search for volunteers as soon as possible so we can get this program working as quickly as we can," according to Bentley.

"Fairfax County and New Hope Housing professionals are involved to provide assistance. However, we hope that the response from the VIC community is the sustaining and driving force behind this project," Kincannon said.