Advertisement

Council plan to meet with REACH makes good sense

October 05, 2003

A majority of the Hagerstown City Council's members say they'll delay a vote on a new ordinance to restrict homeless shelters until they meet with officials of REACH, a volunteer group that runs a cold-weather shelter. That's a good idea, because the present proposal would kill REACH and possibly other groups' efforts as well.

Using local houses of worship, REACH - Religious Effort to Aid and Care for the Homeless - provides shelter from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. the following morning during the colder months.

REACH has worked out an arrangement to put a permanent shelter into a building next door to Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street in downtown Hagerstown. But proposed zoning amendments have put that plan in jeopardy.

The amendments would force the shelter to have a 24-hour-a-day program and be located 1,000 feet from any existing homeless shelter. Because the Union Rescue Mission is less than a block away, that would preclude REACH from opening at that site.

Advertisement

More troublesome is the 24-hour program requirement. As a nonprofit organization, REACH depends on volunteers at the various sites it uses to staff the facility. Funding a full-day program is beyond its capabilities now, its officials say.

When REACH officials meet with the City Council, they will have to deal with two issues. The first is the charge that the shelter attracts indigents from other areas who otherwise would not be here. REACH officials say their surveys show that most who stay there are county residents down on their luck, but they may have to provide more information to back up that contention.

The second is some city officials' belief that the shelter could be located outside of the city, effectively keeping the homeless somewhere else. This can easily be debunked by asking the council to offer proposed sites for the shelter - an announcement which will quickly be followed by a storm of protest from whatever neighborhood is suggested.

Once that storm subsides, it will be clear to the council that REACH should locate on Franklin Street, where in time it will grow to the point where it can offer the full-day program the council seeks.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|