Reborn Homeless Shelter Puts Faith in Community


A rotating shelter for homeless men in the West Valley once cut in a budget-trimming move is now experiencing rebirth, thanks to a Lead Overnight Supervisor Ron Eiland unloads cots from a truck.collaboration of more than 20 churches, community members, and businesses.

The newly incorporated nonprofit, Faith in Action Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter, is celebrating the grand opening of its program with a special benefit concert and reception for the entire community at 7 p.m., this Saturday, March 24, at the Congregational Community Church, 1112 S. Bernardo Ave., Sunnyvale.

Faith in Action volunteers reopened the once defunct shelter earlier this month at the first in a series of eight host congregations in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Saratoga that are opening their doors for one month at a time.

The shelter can house up to 15 men who are actively working toward jobs and permanent homes. Eligible shelter guests are allowed to stay up to 90 days.

Facing Uncertainty

It’s a big success for the group, which faced a lot of uncertainty when the original Faith in Action rotating shelter was shut down three years ago, after nearly two decades of operation through the help of West Valley Community Services (WVCS).

“We had only two months of notice before they closed the program, so we weren’t able to save the program at that time, but in hindsight, I think it was good to have a break, to reassess what we were doing,” said Cathey Edwards, leader of the coalition of churches then, and the unpaid executive director of the current nonprofit. She also runs her own legal consulting business.

Edwards said the group of church representatives thought about working with other programs, but couldn’t let go of the original idea.

“Each time that we met, we kept coming back to Faith in Action and the rotating shelter,” she said. “Everybody kept saying we really still want to do this.”

Being able to host the shelter once or twice a year for a month at a time “provides the churches an opportunity to open their doors to the homeless, it allows them to provide this relational ministry that you can’t find anywhere else,” she said.

Because of the way the program is structured anyone can volunteer to help—families, young people, everyone up to senior citizens.

From a Death Comes Resurrection

It was a memorial after the death of a treasured member of the original Faith in Action team that inspired the group toward resurrecting the shelter, Edwards said.

Former overnight supervisor Gary Bouchard—himself a “graduate” of the rotating shelter—passed away in 2010, which brought together the staff that administered the shelter through WVCS and volunteer leaders at his memorial.

“He was this amazing success story from the program,” Edwards said.  “He was a great spirit, had a million dollar smile, always had a kind word for everyone. He came back to the shelter after he stopped working there just to encourage the guys, and was such a great guy.”

At the memorial, the former staff members asked Edwards and other members of the coalition if they were considering reopening the shelter. Edwards replied that they wanted to reopen, but they weren’t sure how to do it without the help of an established agency, as WCVS had done previously. It would most likely require starting a new nonprofit.

“They said if you want to do this, we’re in,” Edwards said. “And so when they said that we really began to think we could do it. That was one of the things that spurred us on to start a nonprofit specifically to run the shelter.”

Engaging the Community: From Funnel to Floodgate

There was more to it than just reopening the shelter, however, Edwards said. During the time of reassessing, the members of the coalition formed the idea of opening the program up for more community involvement.

Previously, under WVCS, resources were funneled through the agency to the shelter. The new nonprofit is exchanging the funnel for a floodgate.

In starting Faith in Action Silicon Valley,  “we really wanted to engage the community more, and have the community resource the program in ways they have never done before,” Edwards said.

The eight-member board consists of two former local mayors—Pat Vorreiter of Sunnyvale and Orrin Mahoney of Cupertino, who still serves on the city council—the former executive director of Cupertino Community Services (now WVCS), Mary Ellen Chell, and others who are well connected in the community.

The group is not going after any government funding which can bring restrictions on how monies are used, and is instead turning to faith communities, individuals, foundations and corporations for help in funding its $105,000 annual budget. Most of that goes toward paying for a case manager and overnight supervisors.

Many companies and groups are offering in-kind donations, like free truck rentals from a transportation company to help move from church to church, or paper products and other necessities.

Edwards said the group will be looking for even more help, like people who will volunteer to teach the men things like computer skills, or will offer to launder bedding.

Some of the projects that groups can do include assembling hygiene kits and laundry kits for the men. Edwards is hoping some childrens’ groups and businesses might embark on quarter collection campaigns to give the men quarters to do laundry.

Those Being Helped

The men who are eligible for the program must agree to drug testing, if they have a history of drug or alcohol use they must show proof of participating in 12-step meetings, they must be employed or employable, abide by shelter rules, and make progress toward a goal of self-sufficiency and permanent housing.

Faith in Action provides professional case management, overnight supervisors, voice mailboxes, shower facilities, job counseling, bus passes, and other supportive services. Host churches provide a secure place to sleep and store belongings during the day, dinners each night, and groceries for guests to make their own breakfasts and bag lunches.

While there’s currently a “big push” in the community to house large numbers of homeless, Edwards said Faith in Action leaders are committed to serving the more narrow field of clients they know they can help.

“We’re not able to help everybody, but this is what we’re able to do,”  Edwards said.

For more information on how to donate money or items, or to volunteer, see the Faith in Action Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter website.

Here is a list of some of the organization’s ongoing needs:

  • Sleeping bags (new or gently used and cleaned)
  • Blankets, towels and washcloths (new or gently used and cleaned)
  • Nylon duffle bags or large laundry bags
  • TV cart on rollers
  • 12-cup coffee maker (preferably black)
  • Paper products such as napkins, lunch bags, paper towels and toilet paper
  • Laundry detergent (powder) and dryer sheets
  • Plastic trash bags and Ziploc bags
  • Socks, underwear, T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants
  • Toiletries


  1. Pat Plant says:

    Thanks for writing about this important program and listing their needs!

  2. Pam Marino says:

    You are welcome, Pat. Please share the story with others.


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