Resources available to homeless

September 24, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Dinner on this cold night consists of steamers, rice, salad, chocolate cake and cookies.

Some diners are sitting at the plastic tables in the REACH Cold Weather Shelter, finishing their meals. Others, intoxicated, are helping each other stumble into the shelter.

Volunteers watching them from the window comment on whether the two men will make it up the stairs. The rule here is that the guests must be able to make it to the shelter, and up the stairs, on their own.

Or, as one volunteer put it, "They have to make it up under their own steam."

One of the paid security workers, however, does send the homeless out after each other. Tonight, she sends Michael Petry out after a man who's down in a nearby alley.


"Now he's not going to get arrested, not going to be cold," Petry said.

A month ago, it was Petry who was helped inside to safety.

He had been drinking that night.

"I was freezing and didn't know it," Petry said.

A few people come in on this night, not to stay but to collect some of the belongings they stowed at the shelter.

REACH is where people go to escape the fate of one homeless man found in December 2008 near City Park. Authorities said he died of exposure.

"Our mission is to save lives. Obviously, that happens more in the cold weather months," said Jodie Stock, REACH's executive director. "We do allow people that are under the influence to enter the shelter. Again, because of our mission to save lives," she said.

The shelter closed for the season in early April. It will open Oct. 25.

Meanwhile, the Hagerstown Rescue Mission is often filled to capacity. And some homeless people, even families, are staying in the woods.

Who can stay?

REACH, which provides a warm place for adults throughout the winter, is one of six available shelters in Hagerstown. The Mission is open to men, while The Salvation Army and CASA facilities are open to women.

The Community Action Council and St. John's Family Shelter offer temporary housing for families.

Those staying, or wanting to stay, at the family apartments run by the Community Action Council must meet certain requirements. Those on the waiting list for such shelter must show evidence of having applied for public housing and Section 8 subsidized housing with both Hagerstown and Washington County.

To remain on the CAC waiting list for an apartment, families must show proof of income, and every week must provide a weekly accounting of money spent.

Families with no income must document efforts to find jobs. They also must call daily to check for shelter availability, according to waiting list requirements provided by the CAC.

Once in an apartment, families must sign contracts detailing 34 rules residents must obey. The rules prohibit the use or storage of alcohol during a stay at the shelter, and ban firearms, vulgar language, phone and cable, and pets. Residents must keep their quarters clean.

Hagerstown Rescue Mission also strictly enforces some rules. For that reason, some men said they would prefer to live in the woods.

At the Mission, the transients -- those staying just for the night and not for the rehabilitative program -- must attend chapel service. Everyone must take a breathalyzer test, said Bruce Shank, the Mission's executive director.

Lynn Harney, an evening supervisor at the Mission, said he's seen a variety of people come in, from "people who are professional street people to people who are needing a place to get back on their feet."

Probably only one-third of the people he sees are what he considers to be professional street people, Harney said.

A lot of the men have mental or physical illnesses, including hepatitis C, cancer and HIV, he said.

"Because we are, bottom line, religious, we find out where they are in a relationship with God and help them establish that," Harney said.

The Mission has 17 or 18 men in its 13-month rehabiliation program. There are spots for 33, said Chris Shank, director of a youth program at The Hope Center at Hagerstown Rescue Mission.

Another 30 men may stay in beds designated for the transient homeless, he said.

Harney, who spent 22 years as a missionary in Africa and has been in Hagerstown since January, said the number of homeless people in the area surprised him.

Women staying at The Salvation Army are referred there by other organizations, such as the Department of Social Services and CASA. Other women come in off the streets, said Robert Lyle, commanding officer for The Salvation Army in Hagerstown.

The shelter has been in operation for about 20 years and for the three years he's been in Hagerstown, it has always been full, Lyle said.

The Salvation Army doesn't keep a waiting list, but lets people know to check in daily in case a bed opens, he said.

Women staying there can use the shelter's laundry machines and a community kitchen. Shelter officials want residents to look for jobs, and the women have an 8 p.m. curfew, unless they're working, Lyle said.

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