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I-Help (Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program)

A collaboration between two non-profit social service agencies and more than 30 faith groups, which volunteer to host dinner and/or provide housing at least one day a year to make sure that homeless individuals constantly have a place to stay and eat.

Temple Emanuel of Tempe is responsible for meals the first two Sundays of every month and will routinely pick up extra dates if needed; the synagogue also periodically hosts overnight guests.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Emanuel of Tempe
Tempe, Arizona


  • To provide nourishment, lodging and comfort for homeless individuals seven nights a week, 365 days a year.
  • To create working bonds within the interfaith community through cooperative efforts.
  • To eradicate homelessness in the community through an array of creative social action programs.

Tempe, Arizona, does not have a freestanding shelter even though the city has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the county. In 2006, a few religious leaders in the community, including a rabbi from Temple Emanuel, created an advisory board to address the growing problem. I-HELP was modeled after a shelter program in Monterey County, California. The social justice chairperson at Temple Emanuel of Tempe at the time went to the board of trustees to describe the program and eventually received support to participate in this interfaith effort.

A paid coordinator schedules host sites where guests spend the night and interfaith or business groups provide the meals. In order for I-HELP to work, a large network of organizations have to come together; this way, the homeless individuals always have a place to stay, but the burden is not too heavy on any single participating group.

I-HELP is advertised monthly in the synagogue newsletter, weekly emails, fliers at Shabbat services and the synagogue website. Temple Emanuel has an I-HELP volunteer coordinator who schedules synagogue volunteers and handles emergency situations for the whole program.

The volunteer coordinator will send suggestions and tips to volunteers before their first time, including suggestions of what supplies to bring; information on making nutritious meals and preparing foods that are easy for guests to chew; guidelines for interacting with the participants; a schedule; key contact information; and location and parking information. Volunteers are also encouraged to assemble breakfast bags for the guests for the next morning.

Project Implementation:
Temple Emanuel volunteers took on leadership roles in the program early on: One congregant created the website for I-HELP, scheduled all the community groups who joined the program, spearheaded the newsletter; organized two annual walks to raise funds for the program; and reached out to other faith communities to get additional volunteers.

Volunteers plan the meal ahead of time and then bring and serve dinner to the participants at the host site. Most groups and committees at Temple Emanuel routinely volunteer. Some families get together to volunteer regularly, and many Bar/Bar Mitzvah students serve meals. Opportunities are also available for congregants who don't choose to serve directly: They are encouraged to donate money, food or other items such as water, men's clothes, bras, toiletries, blankets and small tools.

Homeless individuals are interviewed each afternoon at the Salvation Army and transported by van to a host site that rotates daily. Dinner is served each evening at 5 p.m. Volunteers of all ages routinely sit with the guests for conversation to "put a face" on the homeless population. Volunteers also take care of serving dinner and cleaning up afterward.

More than 200 homeless people are typically served by these one-day events, and Temple Emanuel of Tempe typically provides about one-quarter of the volunteers who transport the participants to the host sites.

Involvement in this activity has put Temple Emanuel of Tempe on the map as a leader in creating and striving for social and economic justice in the community. Temple Emanuel volunteers have also been inspired to create other programs that provide a continuity of needed services in Tempe. For example, Urban Outreach, housed in a church that is a host site for I-HELP, provides showers, case management services, clothing, computers, internet access and health care during the day. Another new program is Project Homeless Connect, which is a one-day event that brings homeless people from the Tempe area together with service providers under one roof to get immediate help. Services include medical and dental checks, legal assistance, government benefits, representatives from behavioral and chemical dependency treatment programs, bike repair, veteran's affairs, haircuts, showers and much more.

In 2008 the Valley of the Sun United Way took over operations of the program. It is now a monthly event rotating throughout Phoenix.

I-HELP continues be an asset to many citizens in our community who are on the streets every night. According to the 2009-2010 outcome statistics provided by Tempe Community Action Agency, 422 unduplicated homeless individuals were provided approximately 12,775 meals and 12,775 bed nights; 165 clients engaged in Case Management Services; 45 clients obtained vital documentation; 101 clients obtained government benefits; 75 clients obtained employment; and 60 clients obtained housing.

I-HELP has also added a mobile shower unit with 4 shower stalls called Shower Power that travels every night to each host site.