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      Safe Harbor: A safe haven for the homeless

      A hot meal, a warm place to sleep -- and even warmer conversation. It's a program that is giving all of that to the homeless in our area... no questions asked.

      Chilly air, snow-covered streets... perhaps just another Wintry night in Traverse City. But inside Saint Francis Church, hot meals are being served. It's a warm safe haven -- rather, "Safe Harbor" for anyone without a place to call home. No questions asked.

      "The people that we work with that we see here, or on the streets coming in to Safe Harbor, are people and they are experiencing homelessness," said Ryan Hannon, Safe Harbor Chairman. "We have people from 18 to over 70 years old. Some people have jobs -- some people don't, but they are the people falling on hard times and they're trying to stay warm and survive in the cold Winter."

      Since 2003, Safe Harbor has been combating homelessness in the Traverse City area, partnering with Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan, with 24 churches providing shelter and dinner from November to early April. After the doors open at dinnertime, volunteers cook and serve, what they say many of us, take for granted.

      "Most of these individuals that are in this position have had some type of bad luck or made a bad decision somewhere in their life and this is where they've ended up," said Wayne Sterenberg, Safe Harbor volunteer since 2004. "And that can happen to any of us."

      Guests are welcome to rest their heads for the evening -- with mats, totes and blankets provided -- in men's and women's areas of the church. From card playing to movies, books, and board games... it's the conversations -- and relationships made -- that seem to be the most comforting.

      Ryan: "I get to work with the guests and come alongside them during some of the worst times of their lives... And try to help them take that positive step in the right direction and make sure they know where to go , what to do, where to access services and basic needs."

      Those basic needs: food, shelter, a pillow... a friend: something Safe Harbor gives and receives.

      "It's humbled me... It's made me realize that these basic needs are just so important and I don't take them for granted as I may otherwise do."

      Safe Harbor at Saint Francis opens their doors at 6:00 p.m. every evening, serve dinner around 6:30 p.m. and allows guests in until 8:00 p.m. The 24 churches involved each host the homeless for about two weeks at a time every season.

      Safe Harbor is always in need of volunteers. They need food servers, overnight hosts, drivers, and sometimes, someone who can simply sit with the guests and listen. If you'd like to volunteer you can go to http://www.gtsafeharbor.org.