Bonnie Champagne, the president of the People in Need Coalition, and Dawn Turner, the pastor at the First Christian Church, who are developing a “safe park” for the local homeless population. | Kaitlyn Hart, EastIdahoNews.com
IDAHO FALLS – A local church parking lot will soon become a “safe park” for homeless people in Idaho Falls.
The First Christian Church at 1800 12th Street and the People in Need Coalition are currently waiting on approval for insurance, permits and port-a-potties to house homeless people for the night.
Bonnie Champagne, the founder and president of the People in Need Coalition, wants it to be a place where people feel they can take a breath and relax while getting back on their feet.
“We’ve noticed a lot of the homeless don’t feel safe at night, so they stay up all night and sleep during the day, which makes it difficult to put your life in order,” Champagne tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Champagne has been fighting to end homelessness in Idaho Falls for many years.
It was the example of her grandmother many years ago that gave Champagne an interest in the cause.
“Back then, they had people who walked from town to town to try and find work and something to eat,” says Champagne. “They always knocked on the door when they went by, and Gram said we always feed them. We were as poor as church mice, but because we had a farm, we always had food and we didn’t want anyone to go hungry.”
After moving to Idaho Falls, she realized homelessness was an issue and wanted to help.
One cold winter night, Champagne was with a friend when they heard that there was a group of homeless people in town.
Champagne had just made a big pot of hot soup and had baked loaves of fresh bread. Without hesitation, the two gathered the food and set out to find anyone who might need a hug and some warmth.
“When we arrived, we called out and let them know that we were friendly and asked if we could come talk to them,” says Champagne. “So we went over and gave them soup and homemade bread, and (one of the men) burst into tears.”
The man told Champagne that there was another man who could use the same help.
She and her friend walked toward him. He was inside a car, soaking wet.
“He had two boutique candles in there, trying to get warm,” says Champagne. “The window was broken, and as he stood there (with no coat, shivering, I said, ‘If we don’t do something, he’s not going to make it through the night.’”
Champagne was able to get the man a coat and a hot meal. But that night, she realized she needed to do more.
That led to the creation of the People in Need Coalition.
The First Christian Church parking lot, which will eventually become a refuge for the local homeless community. | Kaitlyn Hart, EastIdahoNews.com
With the increase in the homeless population in recent years and local shelters at capacity, the coalition contacted First Christian Church about using its parking lot as a a safe park for homeless people.
The board immediately said yes, Champagne says, and offered to use its shed as a shelter.
Once the park is approved and they’re ready to open, PINC will work with a housing association to screen residents.
Champagne is planning to have volunteer hosts come and interact with the guests and make sure they have some food.
“Mostly we want them to feel a little bit of love, and a little bit of peace, and to be able to take a deep breath and carry on,” she says.
To get involved or learn more, contact the First Christian Church at (208) 523-3241.
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