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Letters to the editor

August 31, 2003

Give us shelter......from new homeless laws that make no sense


To the editor:

Homeless persons congregating in the library during the day is a situation that needs attention. However, the solution that Hagerstown Councilwoman Nigh and Police Chief Smith propose is counter-productive.

Requiring shelters for the homeless to operate 24 hours a day probably would result in the church-based shelter which REACH provides closing its doors.

Then homeless people will be on the streets of Hagerstown day and night. At night they will sleep on the sidewalks and on the remaining benches, while still spending their days in the library.

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It is likely that the police will arrest the homeless folks who sleep on the sidewalks. This will result in the increased expense of booking and housing them in jail.

Rather than telling a non-profit volunteer agency how to do its business, a better solution would be to partner with REACH. How much better to express appreciation for their work of sheltering homeless individuals at night, and for the city to provide a daytime shelter as an alternative to the homeless loitering in the library.

Finally, I wonder whether the proposed requirement that homeless shelters be open 24 hours is constitutional as applied to shelters provided by religious organizations.

Caring for the poor and homeless is one of the activities mandated by all the faiths represented in our community. A regulation telling a faith-based organization how it can carry out its ministry could probably be challenged in our courts on constitutional grounds. I wonder whether Hagerstown wants the publicity such a challenge would bring.

Again, why not partner with REACH instead of opposing the good work it does?

The Rev. Roland C. Hobbs
Hagerstown




I was shocked


To the editor:

I was shocked to hear that REACH's efforts to provide a permanent homeless shelter location seem to be rebuffed by some Hagerstown Planning Commission members.

It seems as if some members of the Hagerstown Planning Commission are hoping that by ignoring the needs of the city's growing homeless population, the homeless will simply go elsewhere.

I am concerned not only as a taxpaying citizen, but also as a volunteer for REACH. I moved here because my husband, Wayne Craig, was born and raised here and convinced me that it is a great place to raise children and to live among his friends and family.

I looked at several community organizations in determining where to volunteer my free time and chose REACH.

In the past year I provided transportation to and from medical appointments for an elderly woman who lives downtown, organized cold weather shelter donations, and helped to coordinate volunteers to staff the daytime cold weather shelter.

I wanted to share my comments regarding a few key points of the proposed ordinance:.

"The shelter shall be open to the homeless 24 hours per day and provide supervision at all times."

A 24-hour shelter would be ideal, no doubt. But at this time, given limited resources, staying open 24 hours is impossible for REACH in the immediate future.

An all-or-none philosophy seems extreme in this case, though. I would rather help to provide a part-time shelter to homeless members of our community than no shelter at all.

"The shelter shall not be located within 1,000 feet of an existing homeless shelter or within 1,500 feet of the central library."

I am very unclear on the purpose of this change. Wasn't last winter's issue that everyone wanted the homeless members of the community out of the library?

And if there were two shelters in proximity (e.g. the Rescue Mission), wouldn't that cut down on foot traffic from one shelter to the next and therefore decrease the irritation of downtown business owners and their patrons?

"In all districts where religious organizations are principal-permitted uses, a temporary, cold weather homeless shelter operating 24 hours per day shall be a permitted accessory use to a bona-fide church, synagogue, mosque, or other house of worship between November 1 and April 15."

And what if the first freeze is Oct. 25? Too bad, freeze until next week or the church faces a $1,000 per day fine for violating the ordinance?

Why does the city care about which calendar dates any religious organization chooses to provide access to shelter?

Perhaps I am misunderstanding the goals and the intent of the proposed zoning changes. If so, I welcome the chance to attend a reopened public hearing and better understand the opposing point of view.

Tanzi Craig
Hagerstown




What is City Council thinking?


To the editor:

My husband and I rejoiced over the recent news that the REACH cold weather shelter had finally found a permanent home in the old Cannon Shoe Factory. Now, it seems that is not the case.

Apparently, the City Council has decided to tinker with the existing downtown zoning in a manner which, if implemented, will almost surely guarantee the loss of the proposed shelter before it even gets off the ground. We respectfully ask, "what is the City Council thinking"?

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