Hamilton church’s temporary overnight warming shelter sees quick growth

The Rev. Mike Botts, pastor of Open Arms Community Church, and his wife, Leslie, who asked him what they would do for the homeless during these cold temperatures. They opened a temporary cold shelter in the Hamilton church. CONTRIBUTED

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The Rev. Mike Botts, pastor of Open Arms Community Church, and his wife, Leslie, who asked him what they would do for the homeless during these cold temperatures. They opened a temporary cold shelter in the Hamilton church. CONTRIBUTED

Open Arms Community Church opened its doors to the homeless

Word quickly spread that Open Arms Community Church in Hamilton has opened its doors to help people needing a warm place to stay during this winter’s frigid temperatures.

Last Tuesday, the first night the temporary shelter was made available, four people spent the night at the church, located at 1401 Western Ave. in Hamilton’s Armondale neighborhood. The next night, a dozen were there. Same with Friday and Saturday nights.

“It’s really taken off, for sure, with all the help from the community,” said the Rev. Mike Botts, the pastor, said Friday before the shelter reopened. The non-denominational church plans to continue opening its doors this winter, whenever temperatures are expected to reach 15º Fahrenheit or lower.

Another frigid period is expected Friday and Saturday, with low temperatures forecasted to reach 4º and 11º, respectively.

Botts estimates the church, which was started in October, 2020, could comfortably sleep 70 in its sanctuary and other areas. It’s been providing sleeping bags and clothing to the visitors.

The shelter is supposed to be open from 6:30 p.m. until 10 a.m., but, “the last few days, they’ve been coming at whatever time, and we have people over there letting them in and bringing them up and letting them sleep, and take naps, eat or something.”

The church also lets them use restrooms and clean up, feeding them dinner and breakfast.

“Nine out of the 12 stayed for Church yesterday morning,” Botts said. “It was great. Our church just put our arms around them and loved ‘em. They felt comfortable enough to stay for church, and it was very successful. They’re all looking forward to being back this weekend because it’s supposed to get really cold.”

Help by the church is appreciated

Mindy Muller, chairwoman of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition, was glad to see the church’s efforts, and said the coalition shared the news on social media.

“I think any church that is interested in helping to plug and fill some gaps is more than welcome to do that,” Muller said. “I appreciate it when they do step up and be the hands and feet, and really help people in a time of need.”

“It speaks to the overall need of people to get out of the cold when there are these kinds of temperatures,” Muller said. “I’m thankful they were willing to serve people, and obviously, when you have people coming, that demonstrates that there’s a need for it.”

Botts early last week was buying gasoline and saw on a gas pump’s television monitor how cold the temperatures were going to be. “My wife called me about 10 minutes later and said, ‘So what are we going to do about the homeless?’ And I said, ‘Let’s open the church.’”

The shelter wasn’t open Thursday, with temperatures in the mid 20s, “but tonight and tomorrow night, it’s supposed to get down to single digits again,” Botts said.

Combined ShapeCaption
A service at Open Arms Community Church, which this week opened a temporary cold shelter in its Hamilton building at 1401 Western Ave. PROVIDED

A service at Open Arms Community Church, which this week opened a temporary cold shelter in its Hamilton building at 1401 Western Ave. PROVIDED

Combined ShapeCaption
A service at Open Arms Community Church, which this week opened a temporary cold shelter in its Hamilton building at 1401 Western Ave. PROVIDED

Most being helped are traditionally homeless people, Botts said.

Opening the church’s arms

“We’ve heard so many stories as far as what has caused them to be where they are,” Botts said. “A lot of them, it’s losing jobs, losing families, drug addictions, alcohol addictions, that have cost them a lot.”

Everyone is checked at the door for drugs and weapons.

“We had to confiscate a couple guns the other night,” he said. They were kept in a safe and returned the next morning. “But while they’re in the building, they cannot have drugs on them or any guns.”

About 30, including his wife, Leslie, are volunteering with the effort, including running the clothes closet, cooking food, cleaning, and watching over them through the night. The best way to contact the church about the temporary shelter is through its Facebook page,

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“It’s been wonderful. It’s been a joy, really,” Botts said, listening to the people’s stories.

“Our church is dedicated to maybe help them get off the streets in the long run,” he said. “Our goal is not just to house them.”

They were prompted to help “because we heard of so many that were struggling last year, and a few that passed away during the cold, and we just don’t want that,” Botts said. “We’ve got a facility and we heat it up, and we try to help them out.”

A lady from Indiana who has a son in his 30s who is living on the streets in Hamilton who she couldn’t contact, and had heard about the program. “I said, ‘Let’s just start praying about it,’ and yesterday I got a phone call. And it was him.”

Her son had heard about the church from another homeless person. “I called her back, let her know that he had called me, and she was just crying and thrilled to death,” Botts said. The man was unable to get a ride over Friday or Saturday because of issues with his phone, but plans are being made to connect with him before the next cold period.

Botts asked people to “keep praying,” and thanked the many who have helped: “We’ve had shelters, we’ve had businesses, the police department, sheriff’s department. We’ve had, you just name it — local churches, people from the local churches — reaching out, donating. It’s been unbelievable, all the donations, and blankets and pillows, socks and shoes. It’s just been crazy.”

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