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Cold Weather Shelter opens doors

October 28, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Even though Sunday was unseasonably mild for late October, Don checked into the REACH Cold Weather Shelter early in the afternoon to make sure he got a bed on opening day of the 2002-2003 season.

"I lost my place and this is very convenient," Don said as he played cards at a round table in the rear of The Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown. "It's my first time here."

Don, who is in his mid-40s, is typical of the clients who have shown up at the shelter for a hot meal, clean bed, breakfast and a bag lunch in the morning throughout the fall and winter seasons for the past six years.

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"If this isn't available, we camp out," said Bob. In his 60s, Bob said he can't make his retirement money stretch far enough to afford a permanent place to live.

Bob estimated he took advantage of the shelter's hospitality about two-thirds of last year's season, which extends through late October into early April. That was up from half the year before, he said.

Camping out is common among the homeless during the warm months. But its popularity begins to wane when the weather turns cold.

"It's not just warmer at the shelter than camping, it's also a lot safer," said James, who is 41 years old and a regular at the shelter. "I was here all last year. They treat me really fine."

James said he is appreciative of the clean surroundings and the good food. "I help them load up when they move," he said.

The fourth player in Sunday afternoon's spirited card game called Spades was another James, who is 32 and a seasonal construction worker.

"I'm here because child support takes all my paycheck," James said. "I'm not here every night, just off and on."

Sherry Hesse, a longtime shelter volunteer, said nearly 300 volunteers are signed up but more could be put to work. "We always need volunteers," Hesse said.

The shelter also still needs toiletries, winter gloves, scarves and thermal underwear, she said. The organization's Web site, reachcaregivers.org, is updated with needs and news on a regular basis.

Katy Sweeney is a volunteer who came to the shelter via Americorp, to whom she has pledged a year of service. She said she receives a small stipend for living expenses and education through Americorp.

Sweeney and Gilbert Thurston Jr. were both on their first night of duty Sunday and looking forward to putting their training into action.

"This is just something I need to do," Thurston said as he greeted a man at the door and helped him through the sign-up process. "I'll be here until 7 in the morning."

REACH stands for Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless.

The Presbyterian Church at 20 S. Prospect St. will accept the homeless through Nov. 10. Then it moves to Congregation B'Nai Abraham, 53 E. Baltimore St., from Nov. 10 to 24.

The shelters are open Monday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m.

For more information and the rest of the schedule, call 301-733-2371.

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