SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The Safe to Sleep program is a warm and safe place to sleep for women who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets. When organizers got it going, and set up cots in churches like Pathways United Methodist, they thought there might be 12 or 15 homeless women who could use a place to stay at night. They were shocked by the number of women needing to get inside out of the elements at a place where they can feel safe.
The women setting up for the night at Pathways United Methodist Church on Monday are happy to be setting up inside.
"I thank God every day for this, because sleeping in a tent was just not cutting it, and it was getting cold," said Sandy Hainline.
Until eight months ago, Hainline had an apartment and a job.
"I've always worked since I was 16 years old, and everything just went out from under me," Hainline said.
She is one of about 20 women spending the night at Safe to Sleep and one of 420 in a little more than a year.
"They're very ordinary women with some problem that caused them to need a place to stay tonight," said Romona Baker, Safe to Sleep coordinator.
Baker says the need became apparent about a year and a half ago.
"I had three women come to me in a row, all wanting a place to get in at night. And there was no place in Springfield to get in. A couple of them were even asking me where to hide for the night, one of them in tears, because she was just so afraid," said Baker.
Many of the women have felt the danger on the streets.
"Yes, yes, I did. I wasn't in a very good part of town when I was camping," Hainline said.
"Anything can happen at any given time out there. I mean especially a victim as a woman," said Ronda Schauer, a volunteer at Safe to Sleep.
Schauer came to the program homeless, and is now back volunteering.
"I get and arrange all the bedding and everything, and make sure everybody has a clean towel," said Schauer.
She's thankful she can help other women feel peace and encouragement.
"This is my calling. I believe it is, to come back and say, 'Hey, I was one of these women at one time,'" Schauer said.
"They're wonderful. All of them are just wonderful people," said Hainline.
"To see them in the morning, they're a little bit bleary eyed, but they're still enthusiastic about being here and ready to come back another night," said Baker.
The women say it's like family, a place where they can come and feel warm and safe.
"No matter how we got here, we're all the same. And we're all very very thankful that we have a place to stay," Hainline said.
Safe to Sleep is open every night, and they need more volunteers. They're looking for women anywhere from 18 to retirement age, and the only requirement is that you stay awake for a few hours to split the shift with another volunteer.
To get involved, contact Baker at Council of Churches of the Ozarks by calling (417) 862-3586 ext 225.