2018-12-06 / Around Town

Seamen’s Offers Refuge for Cold Nights

By Andy Long

The Seamen’s Church Institute is opening its doors this winter for the homeless or for anyone in need of a warm place to spend the night.

“People who are either homeless or their power goes off, they [will] have somewhere safe and warm to go,” said Heather Braga, the institute’s director of finance and human resources.

Seamen’s, the only overnight shelter in Newport, can accommodate 20 people on any evening, including women, who do not sleep in the same space as men, but instead stay in hotel rooms on the third floor. Families or individuals with children are not allowed to stay overnight.

Braga held an orientation session for volunteers on Nov. 21. She said the volunteers provide an important service by “having a presence in the building and keeping the guests company.

“Some of [the guests] aren’t going to sleep. They’re going to stay awake all night,” she said. “The volunteers will chat with them or play cards or do something like that.”

Volunteers perform a number of jobs, such as signing in guests, helping serve breakfast or dinner and installing and stowing cots.

Last winter, the institute was open for 12 overnight stays, with all but one occurring in December or January. There were 109 total stays with 39 different guests.

Volunteers, who stay awake all night, are an integral part of the program, but they are not trained counselors and are not expected to resolve issues.

According to the institute’s volunteer training packet, volunteers are the heart of the SCI Warming Center and provide guests with shelter and safety, a spirit of warmth and hospitality.

Ron Smith, who volunteered last year, worked the late shift, mostly monitoring the space and helping with the morning routine.

“I know folks who are currently homeless, and with the weather we’ve been having in the last few years, I just felt the need to help somebody out,” he said. “It helps you connect with the community. It gives you, especially in this time of year, a sense of being grateful for what you have. And just assisting others is wonderful.

“It gives me great pleasure to just be here, to see someone coming in here with a smile on their face, knowing they’re getting in from the cold.”

Volunteers are asked to work from 4 to 11 p.m. or 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. To volunteer, or to donate hot dishes, contact Heather Braga at 401-847-4260 or heather@seamensnewport.org.

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