On cold nights, Bay View church opens doors for all night prayer

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- As the bitter cold drags on in the Milwaukee area, a Bay View church opened its doors for all night prayer. It is the church's creative response to them being denied a shelter program.

23 homeless adults planned to spend the night inside the Tippecanoe Church on Wednesday, January 23rd to escape the bitter cold and snow.

Though the church doesn't have a lot of the amenities of an official shelter, it is volunteer driven and visitors are encouraged not just to sleep, but to pray.

Stuffed animals, slippers and suitcases are the prized possessions of guests at the Tippecanoe Church. Larry Hartmann used to be one of them. 

"I needed help and I got a lot of it here. I was on some bad times. I was homeless and I had to come here and use the services," Hartmann said.

Hartmann said he used to sleep in wooded areas or parks before finding the church. Now, he's the church's caretaker. 

"They took me from down there to way up here and they’re still working on me. They don’t give up," Hartmann said.

Visitors used to sleep in church pews before being moved downstairs.

The church pastor calls this effort a cold weather ministry.

"One of our guests said to me 'I really thought there were no good people left in the world until I came here,'" Pastor Karen Hagen said.

Pastor Hagen says the church was denied its request for a shelter program, so it started hosting all night prayer vigils, which include assigned spaces for sleep.

"It’s different than a shelter because we do not have beds, we do not have showers, we do not cook here," Pastor Hagen said.

What they do have is an emphasis on prayer and self-evaluation.

Pastor Hagen spends most nights at the church, working with guests toward improving their lives.

"What we provide they don’t find in shelters, which is a relationship," Pastor Hagen said.

Dozens of interfaith organizations contribute to the program, officially called "Divine Intervention" which allows it to be run entirely by volunteers, keeping costs low. 

"In many ways it is a divine intervention, it is a miracle that we’re able to do this. People here tend to start loving each other by the time it’s over it sounds really weird but they become a family," Pastor Hagen said.