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Surge in homelessness no surprise locally

November 25, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

The results of a recent survey of the nation's homeless and poor held few surprises for the clients or the staff at the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission - some of those figures came directly from the residents of the local shelter.

For the past 14 years, the local mission at 125 N. Prospect St. has contributed numbers to the survey compiled by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.

The "Snapshot Survey of the Homeless," completed in October, is a demographic study of more than 20,000 homeless people.

Nationally, 59 percent of those surveyed had been homeless less than one year and 33 percent said they had never been homeless before.

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Locally, more than half of those surveyed said they had been homeless before.

"The slow economy is putting poor people at risk," said Bruce "Sonny" Shank, executive director of the mission. "Layoffs, plant closures and corporate failures mean that many more men, women and children are in need," Shank said.

Capt. Butch Mallard of the Salvation Army in Hagerstown said his agency has 32 beds for the homeless, and they are always full.

The REACH Cold Weather Shelter opened this season to record numbers, said director Terri Baker. Some nights, as many as 41 people have shown up for shelter.

Approximately 24 percent of the homeless men in Washington County are veterans of the military, which is close to the national figure of 25 percent, the study showed.

Shank said 57 percent of those interviewed consider themselves longtime residents of Hagerstown. Three-fourths are in long-term rehabilitation and many are in programs with a spiritual emphasis, Shank said.

Mission Program Director Nancy Shank said the increase in population has come during the mission's major remodeling program, sometimes stretching services and patience a little thin.

"But even though our regular residents have had to double up with the transients, everyone has been trying very hard to make things go as smoothly as possible," Nancy Shank said.

The work at the mission is 75 to 80 percent completed, with the completion date targeted for February 2003, she said.

So far this year, the mission has served 43,261 meals, housed homeless men for 14,491 nights, given clothing and furniture to the needy and ladled out soup to 3,886 people.

For more information on services for the homeless, call 301-739-1165 for the mission; 301-733-2440 for the Salvation Army; or 301-733-2371 for REACH.

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