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REACHing a goal

New city homeless shelter opens its doors

New city homeless shelter opens its doors

October 27, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

andrews@herald-mail.com

All 39 open cots in the men's dormitory and 10 cots in the women's quarters on Wednesday had plastic bags of supplies on them.

Each bag offered enough to stay clean and well-groomed for a little while: a toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, a comb, soap, shampoo, deodorant and skin lotion.

Wednesday was the public's chance to see the new Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless (REACH) shelter on West Franklin Street before guests moved in.

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After moving for years from home to home, church to church, one or two weeks at a time, REACH picked the former Cannon Shoe Co. factory as its home.

It raised $800,000 and moved in almost eight months ago to renovate the building.

REACH volunteers and employees held a ribbon-cutting and open house Wednesday to celebrate transforming about 7,500 square feet on the building's third floor into their home.

In an open dining area with white walls, white tablecloths and white chairs, Nathan Hesse, 16, sang and played songs on a Yamaha keyboard, just loud enough to be heard over the hum of a dozen conversations.

Nathan, an 11th-grader at Saint James School, whose mother is on the REACH volunteer board of directors, said he wrote many of the songs himself.

REACH Executive Director Terri Baker and board President Carrol Lourie showed off a gleaming laundry room with two washers and two dryers, bathrooms with showers, a kitchen stocked with new appliances and shelves of food, and a resource room, where social service agencies can meet with shelter guests in a relaxed setting.

The shelter didn't have any of that when it lived a nomadic life in donated house of worship basements and halls.

In REACH's early years, there was no laundry service. Later, the shelter met residents at laundromats once a week and paid for their wash, Lourie said.

Having its own furnishings is the latest in the shelter's evolution, she said.

Baker said keeping clean and staying safe are two big concerns for guests, and the new building does well in both areas.

Guests - an average of about 40 people per night last season - will appreciate the shelter putting down roots, board member Bunny Fontrier said.

"What they didn't have in the past was an address," which got in the way of getting a job or mail, she said.

Compared to what shelter residents get in California, where she lived for 25 years, REACH's services are quite good, Fontrier said.

The shelter will open for the cold-weather season Sunday at 3 p.m.

The main project left is installing an elevator. Baker said that will be done within about six weeks.

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