Future of Jefferson homeless unsure

November 06, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Pat Fiori does not know who will care for the homeless in Jefferson County in the future, but hopes someone will take up the task.

The president of the Coalition for the Homeless said Wednesday that the board has no plans to reopen the Willowbrooke Center, which closed June 30 due to financial problems, officials said.

"It's a very heartbreaking situation. It's extremely disturbing, particularly now with winter coming on," Fiori said.

West Virginia State Police began an investigation in May after funds were discovered missing from Willowbrooke accounts. The investigation led to the arrest of the former director of the homeless shelter, Elizabeth Hope Hudson, on charges of embezzlement and forgery.


On Wednesday, Hudson waived her right to a preliminary hearing in Jefferson County Magistrate Court. The case will go directly to the grand jury in January, court officials said.

Hudson did not speak during her brief court appearance.

Fiori said the embezzlement case was just one of several problems that led to the shelter's closing.

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston, W.Va., the owner of the old mansion the group used for a shelter, had put the building up for sale three years ago, Fiori said. The shelter was allowed to stay there while the coalition planned to renovate the carriage house it owned next door, Fiori said.

But the cost estimates of the renovations were too much in terms of money and amount of work that volunteers would have to do, Fiori said.

After about eight years operating the only homeless shelter in Jefferson County, the coalition members were worn out, she said.

"The board was really exhausted with the amount of work required and the small amount of people to do it," Fiori said.

The coalition will work with any organization that would like to take over the task, offering advice in starting it up, she said. So far, no groups have approached them to take it over, Fiori said.

For now, the homeless have to go to shelters in Berkeley County or other surrounding areas, officials said.

Sharon Trapp, executive director of the Bethany House, a homeless shelter in Martinsburg, W.Va., said she's seen about 35 people from Jefferson County since Willowbrooke closed. She said Willowbrooke had done good work in providing job services and other counseling to the homeless.

"When you have clients in desperate need, it hurts," Trapp said.

Jane Bowers, executive director of Jefferson County Community Ministries, said many of the homeless are working poor, so sending them to shelters in Berkeley County hurts them because then they have problems getting to their jobs.

Bowers said she now refers the homeless to local welfare agencies.

Willowbrooke offered job counseling, a food pantry and help in setting up budgets, Fiori said.

Before leaving, shelter residents were required to set up savings accounts at a bank to avoid becoming homeless again.

Unlike most shelters throughout the area, Willowbrooke allowed families to stay together, Fiori said.

Most shelters will separate men and women, forcing the fathers to go to one shelter and the mothers and children to another, Bowers said.

"That's devastating because they don't want to be separated," Bowers said.

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