Rockford Church Offers Shelter Alternative

Feb 3, 2021

Some homeless individuals choose not to stay at traditional overnight shelters. With the help of a grant, a Rockford church is giving these people a safe and warm alternative.

The Rockford Overnight Café at the SecondFirst Church started accepting guests Jan. 18. Rebecca White Newgren is the pastor of the church. She said some homeless people with mental illnesses are not comfortable in all spaces.   

“There are some people who are not willing to work within any system,” Newgren explained. “And so, if there's a place that, you know, if you have to have an ID, or if they need your name, or if they're going to track you in some way, they just won't participate.” 

She mentioned that the setup at the church’s gym makes them feel safe.

“It's easy for people to walk into one huge well lit space where there's no corners or crevices for people to hide in.” she said.

Newgren said the space resembles a café but people do have the option to sleep during the night. Guests can also watch movies, play cards and safely socialize. 

A $16,000 grant from the Margaret K. Aldeen Christian Ministry Fund of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois helped finance the café.   

About 20 individuals have visited. It originally launched during the winter of 2019. The goal is to keep people, who have no where else to go, safe during frigid weather conditions. It offers food, clean clothing and shower facilities.

Newgren said for now, the café will be stay open at least through mid-February. The hope is to keep it open until March 1st but she said more funding is needed for that to happen.     

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.