Roving homeless shelter expands to 20 churches

December 01, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

A roving winter shelter for homeless men will run for at least 23 weeks this winter, about one month longer than expected, because 20 Glen Burnie-area churches have agreed to open their doors.

The overnight shelter, opened for the season Nov. 15, will run through Easter week. Organizers said they were concerned chiefly about being able to cover the coldest winter months and are pleased to be able to start earlier and end later. The shelter stemmed from a suggestion within the Glen Burnie Ministerium, which includes about two dozen churches. Nearly all churches turning their social halls and meeting areas into dormitories are in Glen Burnie, but a few are in Odenton, Arnold and Severn.

Having a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shelter that moves every week or so to a different church allowed organizers to provide low-cost help while gauging the need for a shelter, community response to homeless men and prospects for establishing a year-round permanent shelter.

Last year, the first year for "Winter Relief for the Homeless," the overnight shelter moved among 16 churches over 18 weeks.

In planning for this winter, "We contacted the 60-plus parishes that didn't participate last year," said Jim Fouse, shelter coordinator.

Four more churches agreed to join, and another is trying to make arrangements. Just one church that housed men last year has dropped out, because it's in the middle of renovations, Mr. Fouse said. Last year, church leaders feared they would not get enough volunteers to adequately operate the shelter. But a year's experience is removing that reluctance.

Holy Trinity Church, for example, has more people offering their time than it has volunteer slots, said Jacki Coyle, a pastoral associate who is coordinating that church's shelter this week. Because this is an all-volunteer project, volunteers set up, cook, serve food, clean up, stay awake on duty overnight and take the men from the church in the morning.

"We're all set," Ms. Coyle said. "It's much easier the second time around."

Churches need to commit enough space for at least 12 cots, meals and an overnight staff. But Mr. Fouse said he is about to buy 10 more mattresses so that the shelter can accommodate 24 men. Last year's experience taught organizers that single-digit temperatures send more men indoors. While usually six to eight men stayed, the number reached 18 on particularly cold nights. The shelter committee recently bought an alcohol breath sensor to make it easier to determine if men who want to stay overnight are drunk.

"It's a deterrent for the guys who aren't necessarily a problem. And it's the end-all for the guy who comes in drunk but claims he isn't. All he has to do is blow into this thing," Mr. Fouse said.

The shelter's steering committee will set an alcohol limit, perhaps later this week. Last winter, a few men were turned away because of alcohol problems.

Louise Hartz of Pasadena and Joe Knight, who stayed in the temporary shelter last winter, are looking into the feasibility of a permanent shelter. They have found organizations that offer grants and such items as bedding, but have not found a building in Glen Burnie.

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