A homeless outreach ministry of Habit Missions, Watchmen of the Streets was formed in 2009 to support Heath Burchett and his wife, Amanda, as missionaries to the Central American country of Belize. The ministry literally found its roots on the streets of Belize City, where the homeless population was immense. Heath and Amanda were immediately drawn to serve them.
In the fall of 2011, when Heath left Belize and returned home to the Charlotte area, he noticed large numbers of homeless people on the streets of Charlotte and began serving them – officially naming his group of volunteers Watchmen of the Streets.
Then, on a visit to Winston-Salem, where he grew up, Heath and his dad, Al Burchett, began to search Forsyth County to see if homelessness was an issue here. On the first day, they found several fairly large encampments and a few smaller ones. They returned to service those camps occasionally, and in March of 2017, Al decided to take ownership of the Winston-Salem area Watchmen of the Streets. The ministry has grown rapidly, and currently, more than 20 volunteers serve the area, including Al’s wife, Bonnie.
“Our goal is to show our homeless friends there are people who care about them,” Al explains. “Building relationships is very important to us, and even though the living conditions are mostly horrible, the result of our visits is uplifting. Everyone who volunteers with us finds the experience rewarding, and so much of that is because our clients are so appreciative and genuinely excited to see us.”
Forsyth County is too large an area for one-day outings, so the group split into two teams to cover the area in a single day, with Al covering half of the county, and Bonnie leading a team in the other half. The total number of neighbors served is somewhere between 100 and 120.
“One team serves the southside, and the other covers the northside, with some overlap in the downtown area,” explains Al. “Planned outings occur every other Saturday beginning at 9:00 am and usually finish between 1:00 and 2:00 pm. Our teams make 11 to 12 stops each, serving camps in the woods, under bridges, in abandoned buildings and sometimes serving folks who are living in their cars. We’ve also been blessed with dedicated volunteers who can fill in as team leaders when Bonnie and I are traveling.”
The ministry is also able to respond to individual emergency requests, and rarely does a week go by without an emergency visit or two. Watchmen of the Streets does not serve those who sleep in overnight shelters – they concentrate on those who sleep outside.
“Our focus is to provide supplies to make living outside a bit more bearable,” says Al. “We provide camping supplies such as tents, sleeping bags, tarps, rope, blankets and pillows, along with some food and clothing. One of our dedicated volunteers, Mary, shops for clothing for our clients and maintains a stock of clothing at our storage facility.”
Some clients have special needs, and volunteers try their best to accommodate them. That might include special clothing or shoes for a job requirement, or health issues or dietary restrictions.
Watchmen of the Streets started with a small, enclosed trailer, moved to a 10 x 10 storage unit and then to two 10 x 20 units. But, storage rent increased, and they were already outgrowing the units. The mission recently moved into two large rooms at Centenary United Methodist Church on Hampton Road in Clemmons, making a monthly donation to the church for use of the space.
Al says it has allowed the mission to quadruple its storage footprint!
“Clemmons United Methodist Church is our largest donor, along with a few smaller churches who also donate,” he adds. “We have a partnership with the Clemmons Food Pantry, which donates food and helps us lower our food costs, and we also have several individuals who are regular donors.”
Watchmen of the Streets has also had opportunities to help clients get off the streets and into housing, and a partnership with the Clemmons UMC Furniture Ministry aids clients in furnishing apartments when the opportunity arises. The group is also a Partner Agency with GreeNest of Winston-Salem, a local furniture ministry. While they fall under the umbrella of Habit Missions Ministry, Watchmen of the Streets operates its Winston-Salem outreach independently. Other than a few minor costs of being part of the parent charity, all donations from the local area are used for local clients.If you would like to get involved with the mission’s outings, prepare food bags, shop or collect supplies, please call or text Watchmen of the Streets at 336.918.3214, email email@example.com or visit Watchmenofthestreets.com.