The following comes from a Feb. 6 story by Angelus.

David Rosario became homeless 12 years ago, following a car accident that left him unable to work. He spent the night at several shelters around Los Angeles.

Most of them, he said, were “nightmares” — the facilities weren’t clean, the food was inedible, or the staff was unkind.

But at one shelter, he noticed something different. The winter shelter, a program that brings hundreds of homeless people from Los Angeles each night to sleep at churches in the San Gabriel Valley during the cold months, made him feel welcome. 

Bob McKennon, director of the winter shelter, said it’s the churches’ duty to become a refuge for the homeless. “If the churches don’t do it, who will?” he said.

In its early years, the program averaged about 12 guests per night, McKennon said. Now, the winter shelter serves up to 200 people per night, a reflection of Southern California’s growing homeless population over the last three decades. 

At St. John Vianney, volunteers prepared a meal of ham, mixed vegetables, rice, rolls, and cake. As they waited for dinner, guests lined up to receive towels and toiletry kits for a shower in a trailer with eight stalls.

Guests made appointments to receive professional haircuts and dental exams, or for a check-up with one of the two dozen nurses and nursing students, who offer prescription and over-the-counter medications, vaccinations, and screenings.

Gabrielle Johnson, who runs the medical clinic for the shelter, now sees more chronic homelessness, and estimated that only about five to ten percent of her patients eventually get back on their feet.

Despite the growing need for homeless services, McKennon said it’s often difficult to get new churches to participate.

McKennon continued, “We’re fortunate to have what we have, so we should be expressing that gratitude to the good Lord by doing what He would want us to do.”

Rosario agreed. His experience there was so moving, he said, that more than a decade after he got back on his feet, he still goes back to the winter shelter every year— but this time, to help out with the guests.

“It means a lot to the people that you talk to them, not down to them,” he said. “I don’t care what you look like or what you smell like, I’m still going to shake your hand.”