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REACH shelter has 'great' year

January 05, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Year eight has been "great" for the REACH Cold Weather Shelter, the shelter's executive director said.

Amid its busiest early-season period ever, the shelter and its daytime counterpart have helped about three dozen people find jobs and more permanent housing.

Terri Baker, executive director of REACH (Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless), said more people used the shelter in November and December than any other year it has been open. Baker said word of mouth, cold temperatures early in the season and the snowball effect of the slow economy all are reasons for the additional usage.

"Some victories are just taking that step out of the woods and coming to the shelter where it's safer and drier, especially tonight," Baker said. "It's great."

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Baker said the biggest victory so far this season has been getting 35 to 40 of the guests who visited the shelter in late 2003 to find permanent or semi-permanent housing and jobs.

Baker said a Community Action Council program that provides case-management services and temporary housing through the Dagmar Hotel has been a great help to people who have been seeking jobs and treatment for disabilities or substance-abuse problems.

"It's a nice transitional step we have lacked in Washington County," Baker said. "A lot of people coming out of shelters can make fair-market rent, and there is little low-income housing. It really helped people out."

But despite the large number of people moving on, Baker said the shelter has been forced at times to seek additional locations in which to put guests. She said more than 50 people, which generally is the maximum amount REACH can take into a site per night, have come to the shelter on some nights this winter.

"We've had some nights where it was really tight," she said.

The shelter is open during the winter months Mondays through Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and from 3 p.m. Sundays to 7 a.m. Mondays. The location of the shelter, which is sponsored by more than 20 religious organizations, moves about every two weeks.

Last month, REACH signed a 30-year lease with Christ's Reformed Church in Hagerstown to operate a permanent homeless shelter in the third floor of an adjacent building, possibly by October.

Baker said the opening of the day shelter, in its first full year of operation, has been key to helping many of those using REACH. She said it is crucial for guests to have access to volunteers during hours when city services and businesses are open.

The day shelter, located at the New Light Metropolitan Community Church at 40 W. Church St., is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and pairs volunteers with guests seeking help in applying for jobs, searching for housing and getting necessary medication for existing health problems. It is run in conjunction with REACH, Turning Point and the Community Action Council.

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