REACH helps about 30 on opening night

November 15, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

HAGERSTOWN - William Saul and Ron Fraley said they hope to be working as volunteers at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter when it opens at a permanent site.

But for the time being, both are trying to use the roving shelter as a helping hand to go from homeless to helpers.

Saul and Fraley were two of about 30 people who sought refuge from the cold Sunday night as REACH, Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless, opened its annual shelter for the 2004-05 season. The first site for the shelter is First Christian Church at 1345 Potomac Ave.


"As Christians, we're called to help where there's a need," said Jerry Norris, REACH coordinator for First Christian Church. "This is something that's needed here."

REACH Executive Director Terri Baker said last year the shelter drew 377 people between its early November opening and its closing in April. She said the shelter housed an average of about 50 people per night, and the average length of stay was 19 nights.

Saul said he was at the shelter despite having a job because he has not had a place to live in more than a month.

"Now I'm back on the street, I'm grateful to have a place that will have me," Saul said. "Without this place, I'd probably be laying dead somewhere."

"Grateful" was the word that many of the volunteers and a few of the guests used to describe the mood Sunday night.

The guests appeared to be relieved as they finished their dessert in Fellowship Hall and a group of them huddled around a television to watch the movie "Forrest Gump."

Fraley, who slept in the woods in a sleeping bag in recent days, said the shelter helped him get on his feet a few years ago, and he hopes that will happen again. Fraley, who has been homeless since April 2003, said he tries to help out at the shelter, taking out garbage and picking up cigarette butts, to show the volunteers how thankful he is to have a place that will help him and others in similar situations.

"I always felt if someone tries to help you, you should give twice back to show your appreciation," Fraley said. "If it wasn't for these churches and REACH, a lot of people would be thrown in jail for trespassing, trying to get shelter somewhere."

Fraley and Saul said they hope to have apartments by next year, and both said they will come back to the shelter to help others who are less fortunate.

Cindi Messersmith, who works security at the roving REACH shelter, said that is the case with many former shelter guests.

"Five of the volunteers that were here tonight used to be guests ... used to be," Messersmith said. "Now, they have apartments, jobs, and they come back to help whenever we need them."

About eight REACH volunteers were working by late Sunday evening at the shelter, though several church members set up tables and cots after morning services and members of another church, the Ringgold Church of Christ, cooked and delivered the evening's meal, said volunteer Diane Smith of Boonsboro. She said First Christian Church last hosted the shelter for two weeks in January.

The shelter will continue to move to other facilities, generally after two-week stints, as renovations continue at the former Cannon Shoe factory on West Franklin Street. That building is to house the shelter and other nonprofit agencies.

REACH officials have said they hope to make the building the shelter's permanent home in February.

Norris said he believes the stability will be helpful to those who volunteer and, especially, the homeless who are relying on the shelter.

"The guests and the volunteers will know exactly where it is all the time. We won't need to check where it is each week," Norris said.

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