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Church's day shelter fills need for homeless

February 11, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Aaron Vaughn, who is homeless, said he got out of the cold Monday by going to the new temporary day shelter at a Hagerstown church instead of "hanging out" at the Washington County Free Library as he and other homeless people have done this winter.

Spending the day in the library had some disadvantages, including the fact that some library patrons would stare at the homeless people sitting at the tables, Vaughn said.

"It was pretty messed up," Vaughn said.

But until the day shelter opened Monday, the homeless sometimes had no warm place to go but the library during the day, Vaughn said.

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Vaughn was joined by about 20 other homeless people at New Light Metropolitan Community Church at 40 W. Church St. Monday.

The shelter is scheduled to be open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The other shelter, which provides overnight lodging and food for the homeless from October to April, is closed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Both the day and night shelter are operated by REACH - an acronym for Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless.

After some library patrons complained about the homeless at the library, library officials met last week with representatives of REACH and the City of Hagerstown to see if a location could be found to fill what all agreed was a major need: A daytime winter homeless shelter.

It was at that point that New Light Metropolitan Community Church offered the use of its facilities.

"It is so generous of them," REACH Director Terri Baker said.

The church has for three years provided breakfast for those who slept at the night shelter, about 30 to 50 people a day, Pastor Robert L. Griffin said.

The day shelter's opening had an immediate impact on the library, where Executive Director Mary Baykan had said 25 to 35 homeless people were keeping warm in recent weeks.

There were only a few homeless people at the library Monday, she said.

The day shelter "has met a long-standing need in this community," Baykan said. "I appreciate him (Griffin) stepping up to the table."

Vaughn said he knew some people who saw him at the library were thinking: Why don't you get a job?

"It is harder than people think," said Vaughn, who said he has been without a home for three years.

He said he is working to pass the GED, which he thinks will help increase his chances of getting a job. He had a job interview Monday, he said.

A common problem, some at the shelter said Monday, is that some employers won't consider hiring a person who has neither phone access nor a fixed address.

But without a job, the homeless can't afford a phone or a home, Ross Wible said. Wible, 28, said he has been homeless, "off and on for three or four years."

The REACH night shelter rotates among area churches and does not yet have a permanent site, although one is in the works.

With the day shelter open, the library won't have the problem of patrons being unable to find available seating and the homeless won't have to abide by the library's prohibitions against eating, drinking or sleeping, Baykan said.

The day shelter, which shares a parking lot with a liquor store, won't admit anyone who is so intoxicated or high that they can't walk unaided, according to the shelter's rules.

Alcohol and drugs are not allowed in the shelter.

The shelter is organizing voluntary activities for those who use it, including HIV testing, anger management classes and other programs, REACH officials said.

Griffin said he hopes there will be voluntary programs for people with alcohol and drug problems.

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