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Homeless Resource Day event helping others have better lives

March 03, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Homeless Resource Day volunteer Jennifer Martin, left, hands two assistance bags to Karla Brown, right, and her 23 month old son Festus Brown Jr. Saturday afternoon during the Washington County Homeless Coalition sponsored event.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Leaving Saturday’s Homeless Resource Day event, Karla Brown’s 22-month-old son clutched a red balloon while his mother held onto hope of a better life for them both.

“Right now, I’m at The Salvation Army, and I saw the flier at the shelter, so I decided to come out,” the 27-year-old mother said. “I needed help with finding employment and some resources for my son.”

Volunteers at the event steered Brown to Goodwill, which is accepting job applications, and to Head Start, dental services and child support resources for her son.

“Just about everything I was looking for,” she said.

Brown and her son were among 137 homeless and nearly homeless families and individuals who sought help Saturday at the Washington County Homeless Coalition’s Homeless Resource Day at the Aspiring to Serve building on West Franklin Street.

The event brought together more than 40 service providers offering help with housing, health, education, employment and other needs.

Organizers said they hoped bringing all of the service providers under one roof, with volunteers to guide participants to providers matching their needs, would make it easier for participants to get connected and introduce them to services they might not know existed.

For Brown, who moved to Hagerstown less than two months ago from Montgomery County for a “fresh start,” the event did exactly that.

“You don’t know, like really where everything is, or how to look for it, so it being in one spot is very helpful,” she said.

Tom Kline, one of the volunteers at the event, said the people he worked with came from a variety of backgrounds and situations.

“I think typically people have the opinion that folks who are homeless are out of work and maybe not willing to work, but it’s quite the opposite,” he said. “Folks are very interested in connecting with resources to be able to provide for themselves.”

One man Kline worked with was a Vietnam veteran who had been living in the woods outside Hagerstown, he said. Another was working, but not making enough to get by. A third receives disability income, but hadn’t been able to find housing he could afford.

“The barrier that he noted is having the security deposit,” Kline said.

A Community Action Council housing counselor connected that individual with the transitional housing program at the Dagmar in Hagerstown, he said.

“He left here pretty excited,” Kline said.

The event was modeled after one that Anne Arundel County’s Department of Social Services has been holding for many years, said David Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services.

Gov. Martin O’Malley became aware of that event and made available 10 $5,000 grants for similar events, Engle said.

“We were fortunate to be one of the counties that received that funding, so that gave us some seed money to get this up and running and started,” Engle said.

Other support came from the Washington County Homeless Coalition and United Way of Washington County.

Several businesses also contributed to the event. Chick-Fil-A, Krumpe’s Do-Nuts and Martin’s Food Market donated food, Holcim worked on resource bags and sent volunteers, and the Walmart Distribution Center also sent volunteers, said Jodie Ostoich, executive director of REACH of Washington County.

“Washington County is the kind of place where, when we identify a need like this, you just get a tremendous response from the business community,” Engle said.

Organizers hope to make the Homeless Resource Day an annual event, he said.

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Editor's note: This story was edited March 5, 2012, to clarify the third paragraph.

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