21 churches reopen shelter network

November 24, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Last winter, a homeless Jimi McPhail spent nearly three months sleeping in one Glen Burnie-area church after another.

This year, having regained his financial footing, Mr. McPhail, 39, made sure the church he adopted joined those that open their doors to homeless men during the year's coldest months.

The Rev. Dennis Hancock, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Brooklyn Park, said his 60-member flock considers it a blessing to offer food and shelter during the week that includes Easter Sunday.

"I saw a poster in New York City and it really stuck with me," he said. "It said, 'How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and turn your back on him on Monday.' "

The series of shelters, called "Winter Relief for the Homeless," started its third year Nov. 14, with 21 churches participating, one more than last year. Each church in the all-volunteer project takes a week. The program will run at least 22 weeks -- a week less than last year -- but could go longer, should cold weather prevail and churches decide to keep their doors open.

The program bought its second breath-alcohol level tester -- the first disappeared from storage -- to check men to make sure they are not drunk. Intoxicated people are not taken in. Homeless men check in at the Salvation Army in Glen Burnie and are driven to the church.

The program started after several members of the Glen Burnie Ministerium said the lack of shelters in North County and Glen Burnie gave homeless men no option other than huddling under viaducts. When the program started, organizers had to beg for churches to join.

"We're kind of pushing it out on both ends," said Jacki Coyle, pastoral associate at Holy Trinity Church in Glen Burnie and an organizer. "You have a good thing, and people begin to trust it."

Churches must commit to providing dinner and breakfast as well as overnight shelter for up to 20 men, said Jim Fouse of Severn, for whom running the program has become a second job. Some congregations provide personal items, clothes, haircuts, Christmas gifts, even laundromat services.

"The generosity of these individual church communities is extraordinary," he said.

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