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Shelter hopes for new home

May 12, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

If all goes well, the REACH Cold Weather Shelter in Washington County may have just ended its seven-year nomadic existence moving from church to church in the 2002-2003 season, but the final verdict is still out.

REACH Director Terri Baker said she and everyone else associated with the shelter are hoping for the best.

"We are looking forward to having a permanent home for the 2003-2004 season," Baker said, noting that a decision on the shelter's future should be made this month.

"The weather was so cold this past winter, we had a lot of people come in who otherwise try to avoid having to depend on the shelter," Baker said. "It was one of our busiest seasons ever."

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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.

The record numbers translated into 350 people using the facilities in the 2002-2003 season, which ended April 6, Baker said. That compared with 315 the year before.

"We averaged 40 people a night, which is up from 32 a night last year," Baker said. In contrast, the winter of 2001-2002 was unseasonably warm.

While the shelter's main goal is to serve those who would otherwise be outside during the cold 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.

Once REACH opens a permanent shelter, services to the homeless will be improved to include laundry and shower facilities, and the way will be paved for a daytime shelter during the winter months.

A morning drop-in program at the New Light Metropolitan Community Church at 40 W. Church St. operated Mondays through Fridays from 7 to 8:30 a.m. during the shelter season. Breakfast was served to anyone who showed up.

This year the REACH Cold Weather Shelter host churches included Congregation B'Nai Abraham, Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, Christ's Reformed Church, St. John's Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, Grace United Methodist Church, St. John's Episcopal Church and First Christian Church.

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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