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Summit on city's homeless should include all players

June 13, 2003

Hagerstown Councilman Lewis Metzner's call for a summit on the city's homeless population - and how to deal with it - is a good thing. But more will be accomplished if all the relevant agencies are included.

Metzner surprised some recently when he said that the construction of a homeless shelter in downtown Hagerstown was "unacceptable."

The location of the current cold-weather shelter run by REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - rotates among local churches.

But for at least two years the group has been working on a proposal to place a permanent shelter, possibly with day programs, in the old Cannon Shoe Factory building on West Franklin Street.

The building was donated to the church, which has spent at least $1 million renovating it for REACH and other non-profits.

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For reasons that still aren't clear, REACH and the church haven't been able to agree on final details. REACH recently sought a rezoning for a building on East Washington Street, but it was sold to someone else.

Any summit should include the church and local agencies that provide services to homeless and indigent people.

No doubt they will tell the councilman that eliminating a shelter will not eliminate homelessness. Instead, it will lead the homeless to seek shelter in yards and behind buildings downtown.

Without a shelter with organized daytime programs, the homeless will not get the counseling and other services they need, leading to more problems as they roam downtown seeking something to do and whatever cash they can panhandle.

Will such a shelter attract out-of-town people? Not if those who go there know that the price of getting shelter is accepting help with some of their other problems.

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