The first homeless families already were camped out in the hall yesterday, a day before Light House, Annapolis' long-awaited 30-day emergency shelter, was to open.
With homeless shelters filled throughout the Baltimore-Washington region, some people were ready to stand inline to get one of the 12 beds.
A crew of volunteers finished converting an old convenience storeon West Street into the emergency shelter earlier this week, said Timothy McGuire, the Light House caseworker.
Today, after more than a month's delay, Light House officially will open its doors.
"We've got three people in the hallway right now," said McGuire, who was rearranging the last pieces of furniture yesterday. "I expect we'll open at capacity."
Annapolis Area Ministries, an ecumenical coalition of sevenchurches, began the Light House as a roving shelter in 1988. But the growing numbers of homeless families seeking food and shelter soon strained church facilities.
The ministry group decided last spring to find a permanent home for the shelter and settled on the former Capitol Convenience Store at 202-206 West St.
Business owners and residents feared the project would hurt efforts to revitalize their neighborhood and challenged the move.
In November, two community groups lost their suit to prevent the shelter from opening. Annapolis Area Ministries spent the following months collecting start-up money, hiring an executive director, and enlisting the support of Habitat for Humanity, a charitable organization that donates labor for low-income housing.
Jake Thomas briefly served as the shelter's newdirector but resigned several weeks ago, McGuire said. Since then, the church group has relied on 22-year-old McGuire and a group of dedicated volunteers to pull the project together.
"We ended up bringing in a big crew of volunteers to finish it up," McGuire said. "I just moved in the last piece of furniture."
The Light House originally was supposed to open by the end of June. St. Mary's Catholic Church, which housed the roving shelter, wanted it to leave so that the church could renovate its Charles Carroll House, a historic brick parishhouse.
But St. Mary's agreed to delay the project to provide a temporary place for the homeless until the shelter opened.
News of the shelter's opening delighted advocates for the poor and the director of Sarah's House, the county's main homeless shelter, on the grounds of Fort Meade.
Like other area emergency shelters, Sarah's Househas been full every night this summer, said Director Mary Lee Bradyhouse. Even the men's shelter, which usually has empty beds in August,has been in constant demand.
"We're definitely seeing an increased need this summer," Bradyhouse said. "My guess is it's the recession. The job market is so tight, a lot of these guys can't get a job."
Many of the homeless families seeking beds at the new Annapolis shelter have been staying with relatives in overcrowded apartments, McGuire said.
"Everybody has always said you have the hidden homeless who are doubling up in houses with relatives or friends," he said. "When they triple up, somebody has to go."
The Light House had planned to open two longer-term, transitional apartments for families at the same time as its 30-day emergency shelter.
However, construction delays have forced Annapolis Area Ministries to postpone opening the upstairs apartments, McGuire said.