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City to help fund homeless shelter

October 15, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council decided Tuesday to help fund a daytime homeless shelter during the winter, but members expressed reservations about the program's effectiveness.

Last winter some of the people who used the REACH Cold Weather Shelter at night went to the Washington County Free Library's downtown facility during the day, which led to complaints by library patrons and library officials.

The New Light Metropolitan Community Church of Hagerstown offered to provide space for a REACH daytime shelter and the city helped pay some of the expenses.

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On Tuesday the head of REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - asked the city for $17,700 to help pay for the program.

Council members N. Linn Hendershot, Lewis C. Metzner and Carol Moller voted for the city to give REACH the money, which pays for utilities, phone, security and other costs.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he supports the city giving the money if the Washington County Commissioners also pay for some of the expenses.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh said the city should not be giving money to REACH because it might be violating separation of church and state rules and could get the city sued.

Aleshire expressed frustration that even if there is a daytime shelter for the homeless, there is no way to force anyone to go there, so it may not solve the problems at the library.

Hendershot said the problem of homelessness can't be solved by just throwing money at the shelter.

Metzner agreed, but said his main concern is that it is mid-October and there is nowhere for the homeless to go to as an alternative to the library.

Last winter, the day shelter served an average of about 12 people per day compared to more than 30 per night at the night shelter, REACH Executive Director Terri Baker said. Some of those residents have jobs they go to during the day, she said.

The day shelter would operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays from Oct. 27 to April 2.

Metzner once again called for a summit at which city and business leaders would meet with people involved with homeless shelters.

The Hagerstown Planning Commission has held two public hearings on proposed zoning amendments that would require shelters to be open 24 hours a day and provide constant supervision, which REACH officials say they do not have the money, personnel or resources to do.

The proposed zoning change would require a homeless shelter to be at least 1,500 feet away from the Washington County Free Library's downtown facility and 1,000 feet from an existing homeless shelter.

REACH plans to move into a permanent site next to Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street. While the site is more than 1,500 feet from the library, it is less than 1,000 feet from the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission shelter.

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