People of Housing Security:
Executive Director of Bedford Stone City Alliance for Recovery & Hope
helps move residents from shelter to housing
Stone City Alliance for Recovery and Hope (SARAH), led by Heather Flynn, is the backbone organization that supports the operation of Bedford Men’s Warming Shelter as well as the Supporting People in Need (SPIN) program.
Bedford Men’s Warming Shelter first opened in January 2014, after a man froze to death in a stairwell in 2013. The Bedford community knew that something needed to be done to prevent this from ever happening again.
Since then, the shelter has operated each winter season. It was first housed in the Salvation Army but has since moved to its current location at 1414 H Street Bedford, IN 47421.
The Men’s Warming Shelter is open from November 1 to March 31 each year. Heather hopes that eventually SARAH will receive enough funding that the shelter can stay open year-round.
The SPIN program does operate year-round, providing people with resources such as clothes, laundry, showers, and food, as well as other services from 9 to 11 a.m.
Heather first got involved with this work when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. At that time, many of the older volunteers at the Bedford Men’s Warming Shelter had to stop for the safety of their health. So Heather and a few friends at her church decided they would volunteer at the Warming Shelter.
While serving as a volunteer, Heather became passionate about the work being done at the shelter. At the Warming Shelter, Heather began to make relationships with those who sought shelter. She found that few guests had plans to look for housing opportunities. Upon learning that, Heather began to work more with clients about their next steps in finding housing.
Heather took her passion and put it into action. In her first year volunteering, she was able to place 8 people into housing. Heather worked with clients to find feasible solutions to their housing needs, just as a volunteer! Heather informed us that the shelter is mostly run and supported by a local network of volunteers from surrounding churches.
About a year later, Heather became executive director of SARAH. She is doing even more now as executive director. She has shifted the Warming Shelter to a Housing First approach to move guests more quickly into housing.
“When someone is standing in front of you in need, your to-do list can wait”
– Heather Flynn
Though the emergency shelter work is important, “we need to work on housing, not just [preventing people from] freezing to death,” Heather said.
In her free time, Heather enjoys visiting her daughter in Evansville, walking her dog, and going out to lunch with friends. She also likes to spend time outside, as well as cooking. Recently, she has been baking more, and cooking various Asian dishes.
Heather’s job requires a lot of time, planning, and hard work, but she rarely feels much burnout. She is motivated by the progress of those she has worked with as well as the opportunities ahead for them.
One of her favorite things about the Warming Shelter are the communal dinners that they have with guests. Those who come often find it hard to distinguish between those seeking services and those who are volunteering. Heather mentioned that these communal dinners are so important for guests because they often lack support systems. The dinners remind guests that they are loved and valued.
Through her position, Heather has enjoyed learning new things, such as case management. This has been a “learn-as-you-go” process for her, but she isn’t hesitant to ask for help. She enjoys problem-solving and has found that this field gives her a lot of opportunities to do that.
Ultimately, Heather feels an obligation to serve those that are in her path. She feels it is her duty as a Christian to serve those around her.
“When someone is standing in front of you in need, your to-do list can wait,” she said.
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.