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The homeless shelter

June 23, 2003

Councilman Lew Metzner clarifies his position on the issue of where a homeless shelter should be located in Hagerstown.

Like Metzner, we believe the shelter should be at 148 W. Franklin St., the site Christ's Reformed Church has been preparing for it for two years.

And like Metzner, we believe that it's possible to care for the homeless without harming existing businesses by placing a shelter several steps away from Public Square. Baltimore wouldn't put a homeless shelter next to the Pratt Street Pavilion, so why should we do it here?

Unfortunately, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the Franklin Street site is now in limbo. The church and REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - have been unable to agree on the details of how a permanent shelter would operate.

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It is now time for Washington County's elected officials to get involved and help the two sides reach agreement. To let this effort fail would be irresponsible.

If this means finding some state or local money to complete renovations, so be it. If it means pushing REACH and the church to bend on some items, then that's what must be done.

Officials who believe a site outside of town would work better are kidding themselves. More than 20 years ago, the Union Rescue Mission bought a farm to rehabiliate some men and called it the Good Samaritan Lodge.

It was welcomed then, but potential neighbors of a homeless shelter would not be so enthusiastic today.

There would be lawsuits and challenges to the zoning, none of which would be resolved easily or quickly. In contrast, the community has pretty much accepted the idea that that the Franklin Street building will be REACH's permanent site.

The care providers who attended last week's meeting on the homeless also made the point that the services homeless people need - counseling, medical care and job training - are all available downtown.

Elected officials can't hide in the weeds on this one. They need to help REACH and the church find common ground.

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