Westminster crisis center must move

February 06, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The Shepherd's Staff is facing a problem familiar to many people it serves -- homelessness.

"We are seeking a large, low-cost -- no-cost would be better -- space," said Director Kathy Brown.

About 3,000 square feet that could be divided into operational areas, along with a kitchen and a bathroom, would be ideal, she said.

"Maybe not a kitchen, but if we could keep a pot of soup on, who knows how many people we could feed," said Ms. Brown.

The building must have easy access to the public -- within walking distance of downtown Westminster, where 72 percent of Shepherd's Staff clients live.

"We need to be in Westminster, not in the middle of nowhere," said Ms. Brown. "A lot of our clients don't have transportation."

And one more thing: "We need long-term space. I don't want to move again," she said.

The ecumenical crisis center, supported by the Westminster ministerium, helped nearly 2,000 families last year with everything from rent money to a comforting cup of hot coffee.

"Just this week a woman came in looking for work boots so her son could take a job," said Ms. Brown. "We found boots for her."

From its three-room office at the Westminster United Methodist Church on Main Street, Shepherd's Staff serves an average of 43 households a week, often as many as 15 people a day.

"This is a ministry of churches, and it says 'God bless you' when all else fails," said Ms. Brown.

The Methodist church has been "kind to us," she said. "Little by little, they have let us take over more space."

But the church is planning extensive renovations and has asked Shepherd's Staff to vacate the building by early summer. Remodeling aside, the move was inevitable, said Ms. Brown. The nonprofit organization, which began in 1989 from a tiny room at Social Services, needs more space.

In less than 18 months since moving to Main Street, the center has outgrown the nearly 1,000 square feet it has occupied.

Donations, particularly clothing, often spill into adjoining hallways until needy visitors claim items, or volunteers sort and store them. Visitors can comb through closets and select free clothing.

A few nonclothing donations make their way to the Main Street Station consignment shop, which turns them into revenue for the center. "Our clothing operation is important," said Ms. Brown. "Our volunteers need space to sort and size."

Hospitality figures heavily in the daily operation. Coffee, tea and homemade cookies are always ready for callers.

In the search for a new center, Ms. Brown said, "We are willing to talk to anyone who has anything to offer."

Judy McPherson, who is leading a search committee, said she is determined to find a new home.

"We are flexible, and space determines our vision," she said. "We help as many people as we can and participate beyond Social Services, especially with people who have fallen through the cracks."

Ms. McPherson is asking churches to help publicize the search by announcing it at their services and running notices in their bulletins.

"We can't sit here quietly and say we need space," said Ms. McPherson. "We need people to know."

Ms. Brown and Ms. McPherson will meet with members of the Westminster ministerium Feb. 17 to discuss staff needs.

"The more space we have the more we can expand our ministry," Ms. Brown said. "We have faith that this work belongs in Westminster and that there is a home for us."

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