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REACH shelter closes for season, will reopen in October

April 09, 2002|BY MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Monday marked the end of the 2001-02 season for the REACH Cold Weather Shelter in Washington County, and staff and volunteers were busy packing up until October.

While the winter was unseasonably warm, the number of people using the shelter was up, with an average of 33 people checking into the movable shelter each night, REACH Director Terri Baker said.

REACH - an acronym for Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - is headquartered at Hebron Mennonite Church in Paramount. The shelter has been in existence since 1996.

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"We saw a large number of women with mental health issues this year," Baker said. "Some of them had burned all their bridges, meaning they hadn't cooperated with efforts to help them."

Mental health problems are often characterized by reluctance to accept help. Historically such clients are difficult to serve, but the shelter personnel keep trying, Baker said.

While the shelter's main goal is to serve those who would otherwise be outside during the cold weather months, referrals are a big consideration. Anyone referred to an agency that can help promote independent living is one less person at the shelter, Baker said.

"Today I'm worried about some of the women who were at the shelter Sunday night ... where will they go?" Baker said. "We had some success stories but many of these women are still very vulnerable."

REACH's goal is to open a permanent shelter by 2003-04 at the complex next to Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street.

"Then we'll be better equipped to help people and offer laundry and shower facilities all the time," Baker said.

Showers currently are available for the homeless at the Hagerstown Presbyterian Church twice a week all year long.

"We will reopen the REACH Cold Weather Shelter Oct. 27 at the Presbyterian Church," Baker said. "There are still some slots open for hosts but the calendar is filling fast."

This year the hosts included Congregation B'Nai Abraham, Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, Christ's Reformed Church, St. John's Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, Emmanuel United Methodist Church, Grace United Methodist Church, The Masonic Temple and Faith Chapel.

In addition, other churches, civic groups, service clubs and volunteers staffed the shelter, made breakfasts and lunches, and donated supplies such as paper products and food to keep the shelter viable.

Any groups or individuals interested in volunteering time, money or supplies can call 301-733-2371.

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