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Women aim to reshape perception of homeless

November 17, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, PA. - Judith Heefner volunteers at the New Hope Homeless Shelter in Waynesboro because she knows what life on the edge is like.

She reared two children as a divorced single mom.

Heefner, 46, a volunteer, does public relations and fund-raising at the financially strapped shelter at 25 S. Potomac St.

This week, Heefner and Peg Spangler, a member of the shelter's board of directors, are participating in Franklin County's effort to promote Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.

Heefner, who lives in Greencastle, Pa., became involved in August after her church, Greencastle Presbyterian Church, was asked for donations for the shelter.

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"My church sent me here to check it out before they would contribute," she said.

She was impressed by what she found.

This week, the shelter is housing 43 residents, including six families and 14 children.

"I came here to make the public more aware of the kind of people we have here and how much they need this," she said.

"There's a misconception among Waynesboro residents that we have a bunch of drunks here," she said. "Once they realize that we have families with children in need, they change their perception."

People need the shelter for different reasons, including job loss, divorce, dependency problems and disabilities. They need a place to stay temporarily, help finding work, a permanent place to live, help getting to agencies that can provide assistance and transportation to medical appointments, Heefner said.

"Some are single mothers with two and three children whose husbands are in jail. They can stay on their own for a month or two, then the money runs out and they have no place to go," she said.

"When I go home at night and push the button that opens my garage door and I look in my refrigerator that's always full, I begin to understand what they go through," said Heefner, who has been working as an administrative assistant at a Hagerstown surgical practice.

The shelter has no money to spare.

"It takes everything to pay the $800-a-month-mortgage and the utilities to keep the place open so people can have a place to live," she said.

Heefner and some friends spent a recent afternoon at a table at a Wal-Mart store asking for donations for the shelter. They took in about $240.

Her goal is to raise $6,000 by Christmas. She sent out letters seeking donations to more than 300 people she knows and a separate letter to more than 60 area churches.

Spangler said an average stay for shelter residents is two to four months. The goal is to provide programs that help them find work or otherwise become self-sufficient enough to move into their own apartments, she said.

As part of the weeklong hunger and homeless awareness recognition effort, a panel discussion will be held at 10 a.m. today at Christ United Methodist Church, 6 W. Second St., on the subject of "Working Together to Prevent Homelessness."

Panel members will include representatives of New Hope Shelter, the Lunch Place, the Maranatha transitional housing agency in Chambersburg, Pa., the Waynesboro Area Human Services Council and the Waynesboro Welfare Association. It will be followed by lunch and an open house at the shelter.

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