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Shelter summit proposed

June 12, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Wednesday suggested that city government hold a summit with REACH about the location of a permanent Cold Weather Shelter in the city and about how the homeless population affects downtown.

"That would be great," Terri Baker, executive director of REACH (Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless), said Wednesday. "We would be excited and open to have a discussion."

Metzner said Tuesday during a Hagerstown City Council meeting that construction of a homeless shelter in downtown Hagerstown was "unacceptable." Afterward, he received phone calls from people asking how he could take that position and consider himself a liberal.

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"I am not a liberal turned conservative," said Metzner, who said he has does volunteer work for REACH each year since it was created in 1996.

Baker questioned whether the homeless are a "detriment" to the community.

REACH runs the Cold Weather Shelter, which provides lodging and food for the homeless from October to April but it requires its users to be out of the shelter from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The shelter has no permanent site, instead rotating among area churches.

The issue arose during Tuesday's council meeting because REACH appealed to the Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals a request to put a permanent homeless shelter on commercially zoned property at 35 E. Washington St.

While the property owner since has sold the property to another buyer, Police Chief Arthur Smith said any downtown shelter site could result in a repeat of last winter's problems, which included some of the homeless spending time in the Washington County Free Library.

Smith said the same problems could occur if the shelter proceeds with tentative plans for a permanent home on West Franklin Street.

Metzner challenged the assertion by REACH that about 80 percent of the people served by the shelter once had homes in Washington County. He said that REACH does not ask the homeless where they are from.

Baker said that while the homeless are not asked that question when they first enter the shelter, they are later asked by REACH volunteers.

Metzner expressed concern about an increasing homeless population but Baker said that was probably an aberration caused by this year's cold, harsh winter. While the shelter usually helps about 315 people per year, that number increased to 387, she said.

Metzner said he has heard, indirectly, reports that the library would leave downtown if a shelter were built in the area.

But Library Director Mary Baykan said that while there have been some problems with the homeless, which led to the opening of a temporary daytime shelter last winter, there has been no discussion at the library about moving from downtown.

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