The Winter Café at BSM – It Takes a Community
January 10, 2017
For the past ten years BSM has hosted an overnight café to ensure that people living outdoors in the city have a safe and warm place to stay over the winter months. And for most of that time we did just that – act as hosts for two partner organizations, first Bethesda Project and then Horizon House, both of whom did the heavy lifting of staffing the café. We are grateful to these two organizations for their faithful service to our guests. This year, however, we decided to fold the café into our other service offerings that form the backbone of what we call Radical Hospitality.
As we were planning for this year’s café, we learned early on that it really does take a village, or in this case an entire community, to serve these overnight guests “the BSM Way”. From training the overnight staff, to planning meals, and providing other support services, every aspect of the BSM community has been involved.
The concierge team (Geremi James, Leah Yarmus, Michael McKee and Alan Lin) developed a training curriculum that clearly articulated our trauma-informed approach to hospitality. They have also been on-site late in the evenings and early mornings to continue to train our new night staff on the BSM Way. And this new café team has responded beyond our ambitious expectations. As a result, we have received high marks from guests in terms of how they are treated, how welcoming the atmosphere is, how safe they feel coming into our space, and how much they feel part of a community with other guests.
Also, coordinating with our kitchen staff, congregants from Bryn Mawr, Wayne and Westminster Presbyterian Churches have stepped up once again to supply the café with nutritious soups and casseroles so that guests can be greeted with a hot meal every evening. (Special shout outs to Pam Walsh from Bryn Mawr, Mary Alice Clear and Lani Fabere from Wayne, and Dana Loundas from Westminster for making all this happen.)
To support our concierges, the entire BSM staff is poised to add extra support when needed if the city initiates a Code Blue. This occurs when city officials determine that it is unsafe for our guests to be on the streets due to extreme cold or blizzard conditions. The café normally accommodates up to seventy-five guests each night. During Code Blue conditions this increases to one-hundred, and in extreme circumstances that number might rise considerably. During severe weather conditions the café remains open all day as well as all night for the duration of the Code Blue, so having more staff ready to lend a hand is essential.
Our strategy for success with the café is a simple one – hope for the best and plan for the worst. Because of the generosity, compassion and dedication of BSM’s entire extended family, we believe that we will achieve our goal of mitigating the suffering that so many of our vulnerable neighbors would otherwise experience on the coldest nights of the year.
Written by Edd Conboy