We understand that many of you have had questions and frustrations about the new Men’s Shelter Age Policy. The Outreach Ministries would like to share some of the underpinnings that led to the policy change.
The Policy: Children under the age of 14 are allowed at the church for preparation and set up of the Men’s Shelter meal. Children may not be present in the Social Hall when the shelter guests arrive between 6:45 – 7:00pm. Children under the age of 14 who are accompanied at all times by an adult may go to the nursery or CE Building with adult supervision once the guests arrive.
As you know, the Men’s Shelter is run by a partnership of three organizations: Old First, Bethesda Project, and the Student Run Shelter (“SREHUP”). Each partner has its own bailiwick as follows: Old First provides space and volunteers, SREHUP provides volunteers and support, and Bethesda provides all programming and case management for our guests.
Together, the partnership agreed on the new Age Policy, after significant negotiation and thoughtful consideration. Bethesda Project, with its wealth of experience, has an age limit of 18 years old for all of its shelter sites, and youth are not permitted to interact with the guests at their facilities. After signification negotiation, and based on the relationship between Bethesda Project and Old First, Bethesda Project agreed to flex the Age Policy to allow children 14 and older in the Men’s Shelter.
Some of the reasons for the Age Policy are as follows:
* Safety: Shelter guests are not screened for suitability for interaction with children. Bethesda Project cannot divulge the backgrounds of guests who stay at the Men’s Shelter due to confidentiality obligations. Some of our guests may not be legally allowed around children, and violent incidents have occurred in the past, even though every precaution is taken to avoid them. We offer a safe space for the men to sleep and share meals, but we are not social workers, and we must trust with full-faith that our partner, Bethesda Project, is providing good counsel.
* Liability: The stability of our guests in interacting with children is a concern. Any harm done to a child, or even an accident, opens up liability concerns for the entire partnership. This is especially the case for Old First as the location of the shelter, and the policy holder for insurance for the Men’s Shelter. To date, Old First has been very fortunate to not have any incidents involving children, but we cannot afford to wait for an incident to occur before we take action. Frankly, Old First cannot weather any substantial liability claim, and, if forced to do so, could significantly impair not only the Men’s Shelter, but also Old First itself.
As always, Old First’s first concern is serving our neighbors in need, and ensuring everyone’s safety and comfort is the first step to running a great program.
We thank all who shared their kind concerns over the policy and trust that we can move forward in good partnership with our Men’s Shelter Partners and volunteers. If you have any further concerns, please feel free to address them to the Out Reach Ministries SLG.
Leader, Old First Out Reach Ministries SLG