Churches in Bendigo will throw open their doors to people experiencing homelessness this winter.
Bendigo Winter Night Shelter will provide guests with a hot meal, a place to sleep and dignity, organisers say.
It's the first time the project has run in Bendigo.
Coordinator Andrew Howe is optimistic that as many as 15 venues could be involved. Twelve have confirmed so far.
Churches will offer the guests shelter from the cold winter nights over the 92 days between June 1 and August 31.
Ten guests will be part of the pilot this year.
They will be identified and invited before the program, through referrals from other organisations such as Haven; Home, Safe and Bendigo Police.
Mr Howe looks at the program as crisis accommodation, for people who have fallen through the cracks and might be sleeping rough, or couch surfing.
A leader of Bendigo's Salvation Army, Andrew Walker had been racking his brains for years for a way to help people who are homeless better in Bendigo.
As part of the Salvation Army Mr Walker sees homelessness on a regular basis as part of the work the church does helping people in need.
He doesn't remember where he saw the concept of a winter night shelter, but in July or August 2018 he sent out some emails to several church leaders and groups in Bendigo.
It was always heartbreaking to say, 'Here's a bag of food' to someone, knowing that they were going to be in their car for the night, or on the street.Andrew Walker
The project grew from there.
Mr Howe said the model was one with which anyone could help, no matter how much time they could give.
"I genuinely believe that given the opportunity to help people we should," Mr Howe said.
"Often we actually don't know how to do it because it seems to big, but this is a model and a process that I felt that I could engage with and take forward."
The simple provisions of a bed and a meal can confer dignity on the guest.
The hot meal isn't just food eaten in a safe corner. It's a meal eaten in community, Mr Walker said.
During the project the team hopes to work with guests to help them exit homelessness, Mr Walker said.
"It was always heartbreaking to say, 'Here's a bag of food' to someone, knowing that they were going to be in their car for the night, or on the street," Mr Walker said.
"Those things don't have the dignity... When you don't have dignity it can become a spiral, it's very hard to lift yourself out of a situation where you don't have that self worth.
"What's exciting about this project is it's not just about a Band-Aid, it's about working with the guests."
For Mr Walker helping people with hardship is about how the Salvation Army was founded 150 years ago.
"The Salvation Army's Vision is that wherever there's hardship or injustice, we want to be there to make a difference," he said.
"This is just one aspect of the hardship and injustice people in our community are experiencing. In winter, people who are experiencing homelessness, it's a really noticeable struggle.
"The Salvation Army was founded ... on the principles of sharing the good news of Jesus and providing assistance to people in need. We love God by serving others."
The program will be something of a military organisation to run. At least 12 churches will be involved, and it will need about 180 volunteers.
Guests will be picked up from a central location in Bendigo and taken to their night's accommodation.
Mr Howe hopes to have 14 churches involved, meaning each will host once a week.
Volunteers will provide a nutritious, home-cooked, hot meal, and a cold breakfast.
Guests will sleep in camp-beds.
It's modeled on Stable One organisation in the Yarra Ranges, which has been running a similar program for several years.
Mr Howe is hoping many of the volunteers will come from outside Bendigo's church communities.
He's already been amazed by the level of generosity he's seen from people, both inside and outside of churches.
People can express interest in Bendigo Winter Night Shelter via a soon-to-be-launched website.
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