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Chores, Bible study buys shelter

January 24, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The bitter cold of recent nights was easing Thursday, but as the 7 p.m. opening of the Chambersburg Cold Weather Drop-In Shelter approached, the first few of a group of 13 men with nowhere else to go was checking in for a warm meal, a clean bed and some chores.

Robert, 31, had spent two weeks at the shelter and came back Thursday, not to spend the night, but to drop off ketchup, mustard and other condiments. He still was waiting to hear about a job he had applied for, but he had found a place to stay.

"When I came in, I set myself a goal that I wasn't going to stay more than two weeks," Robert said. A Franklin County native and former Marine, he and his wife had moved to her native Canada, but he could not get a job.

Robert said he came back to find work and save enough money to return and help support his wife.

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On Thursdays, those staying at the shelter at 195 Loudon Street walk about a block for a meal at First United Methodist Church, and on Sundays, they go to dinner at Falling Spring Presbyterian Church, said Hubey Gower, the shelter's assistant manager. The other nights of the week, other churches bring meals to the shelter.

"It's pretty good," Robert said of the food.

The shelter, supported by churches and donations, has beds for 14 men and six women, Gower said. This night, there were no women.

New arrivals automatically can stay for 14 days, shelter manager Craig Newcomer said. For every two hours of community service, a man or woman can earn another night. One man had been there 48 nights.

The work requirement might be one reason the shelter is not full, Gower said. As he spoke about it, one young man complained the shelter should "make it easier" for people to stay.

"Two hours of community service is pretty good for a nice, clean, safe place to stay at night," Gower told him.

One man said he had put in eight hours cleaning a church and earning himself some extra days in the shelter.

"I'm doing what I have to do to keep a roof over my head," he said.

The staff also works with the homeless to try and get them jobs and a permanent place to stay, Gower said.

At night, churches and individuals provide the volunteers needed to stay through the night. On Thursday, Chambersburg Hospital provided the volunteers, with Pat Barbarowicz, vice president for community relations; Deb Zenefski of information services; and Chaplain Paul Yeun taking the 7 to 10 p.m. shift.

Others would work from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., followed by volunteers taking the 5 to 7 a.m. shift when the men would start getting up, eat breakfast and head out for the day.

Yeun said residents can buy some extra time inside if they participate in Bible faith-based ministry study. Some do, while others don't, he said.

This night, Terry and Mike were watching television with the sound turned down. Mike can't hear very well, so "it doesn't do me much good to turn it up."

Terry, 41, had been living with his former in-laws, but said their primary interest was access to his disability check. Sometimes, he and others will hang around outside before the shelter opens, having a smoke or taking a walk up and down Loudon Street.

Since it opened for its fifth season Dec. 5, the shelter had totaled 469 resident days as of Thursday. The shelter will remain open until the first Monday in April, Gower said.

Last year, the homeless spent about 1,800 resident days at the shelter, Gower said.

"I lost my job, I lost my house and, before you know it, here I am," said 27-year-old John, his possessions stuffed into a Rubbermaid bin at the end of his bed. He has worked as a painter, but there is not much call for that in a weak economy.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better," Gower said.

For more information: For information on the Chambersburg Cold Weather Drop-In Shelter, go to http://chambersburgcoldweatherdropinshelter.org

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