Chambersburg cold weather shelter holds open house

Event coincides with National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Event coincides with National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

November 18, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Plastic bags holding sets of freshly washed linens sat next to each bed in the Chambersburg Cold Weather Drop-in Shelter on Wednesday during an open house.

Shelter officials, who are preparing for a Dec. 4 season opening, hosted the event to coincide with National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. Their open house was one of five scheduled at Franklin County, Pa., shelters this week.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless. The homeless are very good people," shelter director Craig Newcomer said.

The cold weather drop-in shelter, which is in its sixth year, will remain open through at least the beginning of April. Adult men and women are welcome at the shelter, regardless of their situation.

After 14 days, guests are required to perform community service to stay longer.

"For every four hours they do, we give them an extra night," said Tom Newcomer, president of the nine-person board of directors.


The main door of the shelter opens into eating and lounge areas. Behind those is a men's room of beds and a women's room of beds.

At the foot of each bed is a plastic container where guests are required to put their things overnight.

"Some people have their entire life's possessions in here," Tom Newcomer said.

Despite the sour economy, Tom Newcomer said the shelter had fewer guests than usual in 2008-09. He speculated the addition of the community service component largely contributed to that change.

The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and can accept 20 guests a night.

"In the past couple years, we've had three or four occasions when we've maxed out. We've never had to turn people away, thank God," Craig Newcomer said.

Tom Newcomer said some guests are transient people moving through the community. Others live in camps of tents along Conococheague Creek, are experiencing a lifetime of homelessness or are just having hard times.

Craig Newcomer said two male guests last year were older than 55 and held engineering degrees.

"It can happen to anybody," he said.

Contributions from Chambersburg area churches fund the shelter. Churches and other organizations like Mercersburg Academy take turns preparing the evening meal for guests.

Maranatha Inc. owns the Loudon Street building and leases the shelter space for $1 a year. The shelter was remodeled in 2006 after flooding. Names of individuals and businesses that assisted with the renovations and subsequent projects are written on a pillar just steps from the front door.

Shelter officials update a list of needs on their Web site. Current needs include foam coffee cups, paper towels and laundry detergent.

"We can always use volunteers," Tom Newcomer said.

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