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Winter day shelter opens doors to city's homeless

November 04, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

More than a dozen homeless people Monday used a Church Street building as a base for filling out job applications, looking for permanent housing and making appointments to deal with health problems.

This all on day one of operation at the winter day shelter.

Approximately 15 people took advantage of the opening of the day shelter at the New Light Metropolitan Community Church at 40 W. Church St., Program Assistant Katy Costa-Sweeney said.

Costa-Sweeney said she was surprised by the high turnout because the temperature was higher than 80 degrees.

The shelter is not just a place for homeless people to gather. Personnel will provide guidance on how the homeless can improve their current living situations, Costa-Sweeney said.

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The day shelter has the potential to be more successful in this area than the evening shelter because it is open when city agencies and businesses are operating, she said.

"In the daytime, we have from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to work on a specific, one-on-one basis," Costa-Sweeney said. "The idea here is to make them as self-sufficient as possible."

Costa-Sweeney said she and volunteers helped guests apply for jobs, search for possible locations for permanent housing and get the medication or services they need for existing health problems. She said the guests filled out applications or paperwork for the Walnut Street Clinic, the Department of Social Services and businesses.

"Today, I gave people checklists to go to certain places and get applications," Costa-Sweeney said. "We went over them, and then they went back and turned them in."

This will be the first full season for the day shelter. Last year, the day shelter opened in February. Before that, some homeless people who had been staying at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter, which was open only at night, sought shelter at the Washington County Free Library during daytime hours.

Last week, the Hagerstown City Council voted 3-2 to provide $17,700 to help pay for the day shelter.

The day shelter is being run in conjunction with REACH, Turning Point and the Community Action Council.

According to many involved with the day and night shelters in the city, the programs are successful only because of the volunteers.

More than 1,000 people are expected to volunteer this winter between the night and day shelters, Costa-Sweeney said. She said the shelters need every one of them.

"There's only two paid people here - everything else is done by the volunteers," Costa-Sweeney said. "We'd be nowhere without them."

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