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Jefferson County shelter closes

July 03, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Faced with financial and management problems, the Willowbrook Center for the Homeless has closed its doors after eight years.

Pat Fiori, president of the shelter's board of directors, said the closing is unfortunate because Willowbrook is the only homeless center in the Tri-State area that takes in entire families.

Other centers will accept mothers and children, but will not allow fathers to stay with the families, Fiori said.

The shelter, along W.Va. 9 near the Shenandoah River, could accommodate 15 people and was full most of the time.

Many of the tenants ended up at the shelter after going broke while supporting drug habits. At the center, they would be required to start a program to get their lives in order. That included taking nutrition and life-skill courses, and making steps toward finding employment.

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One of the reasons the shelter closed was because of "financial irregularities" that had been discovered there, Fiori said. Fiori would not say what the irregularities were, but said an internal investigation has begun.

The shelter also had problems getting good management and obtaining grants and had been in a dispute with the Jefferson County Commissioners over funding. "There were so many hurdles we would have to overcome," said Fiori.

Under an agreement reached between Willowbrook and the commissioners, the county agreed to pay the homeless shelter $120,000 if Willowbrook would agree to drop its interest in a piece of land the county wanted to make part of an industrial park.

The commissioners paid the shelter $80,000, but later delayed paying the remaining $40,000, saying they were not sure whether it was right for them to take on debts for future commissioners.

Althought the money was finally paid, the disagreement dragged the center down because it did not have the money it counted on, said Fiori.

"They got their money, that's all I can say," said Commissioner Edgar Ridgeway, who did not want to fund the shelter in 1995.

Ridgeway said he was not surprised the shelter closed. "I just knew how they were operating over there," he said.

In mid-June, the shelter started moving its tenants, many of whom were able to find their own housing, Fiori said.

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