'Drastically' changing over the years, Nights of Hospitality continues to offer warmth

Feb 6, 2018

Debra Potito has been sleeping on a mattress inside a church during the winter for a couple years, but before that, she was sleeping in a tent behind Cardi's Furniture for more than three years. She said having a warm place to sleep indoors is a big improvement.

“It’s especially good on really snowy days,” Potito said.

She is one of dozens of people in Wareham who attends Nights of Hospitality, a faith-based community organization that provides dinner, breakfast and a warm place to sleep for those in need every night from December to March. There are five churches that provide staffing in three church buildings to keep people warm, clothed and fed throughout the winter.

The program began 10 years ago, said coordinator Chuck McCollough, but it’s changed drastically since then – “and not for the better.” The number of people staying overnight has increased, from five people each night to 20, a “disconcerting” number, McCollough said.

A few years ago, there were seldom women staying in the churches, but now the large room used for women to sleep in is almost always full. McCollough said the guests are also much younger than in past years and that mental health is often an underlying issue. Drug addiction is more prevalent than before, too.

“The drug epidemic is doing some real damage to these folks,” McCollough said. “They’re crying out for help.”

Everyone has a different story: some are addicts, some are in recovery, some have jobs, some have vehicles of their own. Nights of Hospitality welcomes anyone who needs to stay warm.

“We attempt to take the stigma away from what homelessness is,” McCollough said.

The volunteers at Nights of Hospitality aren’t formally trained to counsel, but they do provide what McCollough calls “quiet conversation,” just listening to the stories of others.

Vance Shurtleff, who has attended Nights of Hospitality for the last two weeks, said the staff create a comfortable environment.

“They’re very friendly, very giving,” Shurtleff said. “They go out of their way to help us.”

It’s not smooth sailing every night, though. Sometimes, the police are called to remove people causing problems. There are conflicting personalities that can cause issues some nights, too. Some people come in under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and they’re welcomed as long as they aren’t disruptive.

“Everybody has their moments where they clash, but we’re all happy to have a place to stay,” Potito said. “We’re like a big huge family, we all fight sometimes and then we all get along.”

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, was a guest at Nights of Hospitality for the first time on Monday night. She looked through the pile of clothing donations to find something warm in her size.

“I’m really grateful I found out about this place,” she said, adding that she “befriended the wrong people” and found herself without heat in her home for the winter. It was a situation she has never been in before.

McCollough said he tells volunteers to keep in mind that it can happen to anyone.

“We’re all one circumstance away ourselves from being there,” McCollough said. “So our motto is, no one freezes tonight.”

Nights of Hospitality receives donations of meals and clothes from people in the community, but McCollough said they still need volunteers, particularly to keep watch during the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. The large number of people needing help can become overwhelming at times, so more hands are always useful.

“It’s a great ministry, but it’s a ministry that might be getting somewhat beyond us,” McCollough said.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Pastor David Shaw at 508-295-9268. Nights of Hospitality is open every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The locations for Nights of Hospitality this month are as follows.

  • Feb. 4 to 10, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, 84 High St.
  • Feb. 11 to 17, Emmanuel's Church of the Nazarene, 6 Rogers Ave.
  • Feb. 18 to 24, The Bridge, 15 Highland Ave.
  • Feb. 25 to March 3, Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene, 6 Rogers Ave.