Vigil sheds light on plight of homeless

November 14, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The cooing of pigeons alternated with the roar of traffic as about 50 people stood on the square in front of Central Presbyterian Church Sunday evening to recognize the plight of the homeless.

Holding lighted candles, the group listened to David Nemitz talk about becoming homeless as a teenager.

"I was not a runaway," he said. "I did not use drugs or alcohol. It was (due to) a set of circumstances that came up. Few things are as terrifying as waking up in the morning and not knowing where you are going to take a shower, get a meal or sleep tonight. I didn't know where I could keep my belongings so they wouldn't get stolen."

Now the program director of the Franklin County Homeless Shelter, Nemitz encouraged people to do something for the shelters on a consistent basis.


"Thanksgiving and Christmas will go by, and people will still be homeless, still need to eat, still need a job or an apartment," he said. "If you can't help them, connect them to someone who can."

The vigil, sponsored by the Local Housing Options Team, was the opening event of the second annual Franklin County observance of the national Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.

The Chambersburg shelter, on South Main Street, serves 200 to 300 people per year, Nemitz said, and turns away about that many "either because there is no room or they are not suitable." The shelter has no tolerance for drug or alcohol use or for violence, he added.

One-third of those coming to the shelter are children with one or both of their parents, Nemitz said.

People become homeless in Franklin County because of "any social problem you can think of," Nemitz said.

"Lack of affordable housing, physical and mental disabilities, medical issues, lack of transportation, job issues, drug and alcohol issues. Most just made a series of bad choices and did not think they would end up homeless." Many people are only one paycheck away from being homeless, he said.

When people come to the shelter, "we set goals with them," Nemitz said. "They can stay as long as they can prove they are working on their goals. We don't throw people out because of a random time limit." In general, "those who stay more than three months don't succeed. It's a motivation issue," he said. Most residents move on to transitional housing or to their own apartment.

The 19-year-old shelter has been supported by the county since 1987 through South Central Community Action Program (SCCAP).

Franklin County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer read a proclamation from the board of commissioners declaring Nov. 13 to 19 Franklin County Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.

Terri Hurst of New Franklin runs the food pantry at Maranatha Ministries, which feeds 500 families a month, she said. The pantry is in the same building as the Cold Weather Shelter, which recently opened again for the season.

Hurst told the group about once seeing a child reaching out to touch the hand of a homeless woman. The child's mother yanked her away saying, "Don't! You don't know what diseases these people have."

As the mother and child passed, Hurst saw the homeless woman pull a picture of a child out of her pocket and weep. "That touched me so much it changed my life," she said.

"Homeless people are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents. They are someone's child. If we don't help them, we've missed why we're here in the first place," Hurst said. "If your sister or brother were in trouble, you'd do everything you could to help them get back on their feet. (The homeless) may not be your blood family, but they are someone's. Do all you can to reach out to them. Support the shelters. Do whatever you are led to do, but be sure you do something."

Homeless week

Today: Open house at the Chambersburg Cold Weather Shelter, 195 Loudon St., 1 to 7 p.m.

Tuesday: Open house at the SCCAP Franklin County Shelter, 223 S. Main St., Chambersburg, 1 to 7 p.m.

Wednesday:Waynesboro (Pa.) Homeless Awareness Program, 10 to 11:30 a.m., followed by lunch at The Lunch Place, both at Christ United Methodist Church, 6 W. Second St., Waynesboro.

Wednesday: Open house at New Hope Shelter, 25 S. Potomac St., Waynesboro, 1 to 8 p.m.

The Herald-Mail Articles