Hendershot says homeless need more help

June 20, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

Hagerstown City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, at a workshop he hosted Thursday, said the city is doing an insufficient job of helping the homeless and dealing with problems resulting from their presence.

"The government cannot solve this problem alone. Together with the human service providers we can do a better job than what we have done in the past," Hendershot said.

Hendershot said he called for the workshop to get a better understanding of the homeless in Washington County and to urge those present to attend a planned summit on the homeless.


The summit would include representatives of businesses, city police and others with concerns about a permanent REACH shelter in downtown, Hendershot said.

About 30 people attended the workshop at the Western Maryland Hospital Center, including representatives of city government, the Washington County Free Library, REACH, Turning Point and other groups.

Hendershot said the meeting was sparked by a recent council discussion on the REACH shelter, and in particular by a comment by Hagerstown Councilman Lewis C. Metzner.

Metzner, at the June 10 council meeting, said "A homeless shelter in downtown Hagerstown is unacceptable."

While Metzner and others have said a downtown shelter could hurt downtown revitalization and businesses, the head of REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - says the shelter needs to be built downtown near services provided to the homeless.

Negotiations are continuing on REACH's efforts to have a permanent home on West Franklin Street next to Christ's Reformed Church. REACH Executive Director Terri Baker said she expects to know by the end of next week whether the shelter will open at that site.

The REACH shelter, which operates during the winter months, currently moves from church to church.

Metzner, who suggested the summit, said he was not aware of Thursday's meeting until it was under way.

Hendershot had no comment in response to Metzner's remark.

Metzner on Thursday said he does not consider the church site to be downtown and should have made that distinction clear when he made his remarks at the council meeting.

What he should have said was that he does not support a shelter in the "central core of downtown," he said Thursday.

Differing opinions on what constitutes downtown have confused the issue in recent days, Metzner said.

Metzner said he has supported REACH's cold weather shelter and that he and his wife have volunteered at the shelter.

David Jordan - director of the Community Action Council, which helps needy people - and others, said at Thursday's meeting there is a perception problem about who the homeless are, with some confusing those who live in Section 8 housing downtown with the homeless.

Some of the homeless have jobs but do not make enough money to get housing for themselves and their families, Jordan said.

While there are other shelters in Hagerstown, much of the focus at the Thursday meeting was on the REACH facility.

After the meeting, Baker said her group and others will continue to help the homeless but she has no objection to meeting with other groups if doing so would help provide a better understanding of the situation.

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