Shelter restored to fiscal health

Community helps cover Light House deficit

March 10, 2003|By Kory Dodd | Kory Dodd,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Henry Green of Heritage Baptist Church first got the call in January: The Light House Shelter had a $54,000 deficit, and donations were barely trickling in. Unless it received funding soon, Annapolis' only homeless shelter would be forced to close its doors, Green worried.

Toni Graff, executive director of Annapolis Area Ministries Inc., which runs the shelter, said: "We were very cash poor and did not even have enough cash to operate."

The 17-member coalition of churches had been raising money through a letter campaign since December to cover the deficit. But at a meeting of the group's board Jan. 23, Green challenged each member church to raise $5,000 by March 2.

His goal was not only to raise money for the shelter but to rally the community to make sure such a crisis would not arise again. As of the March 2 deadline, Heritage Baptist had raised about $7,600, and Green expressed confidence that the campaign as a whole would exceed its goal.

Graff said that about 50 people are homeless on the streets of Annapolis on any given day. The 15-bed Light House Shelter is the only one in the county that accepts single men and women. It also has two apartments for families.

Last year, 161 people stayed in the shelter and 902 were turned away, including 335 children, said Graff. "We have not been empty for over five years," she said. "Once someone leaves, someone [else] comes in."

The shelter staff takes pride in the programs it offers, which include job training, drug and alcohol treatment, life skill classes and help finding jobs and affordable housing.

"We're not just a place for people to sleep," Graff said.

The shelter's crisis began with a 43 percent drop in donations last summer, Graff said. She attributed the steep decline to the economic downturn and a tendency among donors to give elsewhere after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

"Usually, donations are down in the summer because people go away," but they always rebound at summer's end, Graff said. But last year "even some of our regular donors -- big donors -- cut in half the donations they were giving us," she said.

Part of the problem was that the organization has "not been out there tooting our own horn and getting our name out there," Green said. The fault lies with the organization, Green said, and that was one of the reasons he looked internally, to the coalition of churches, to help raise the money.

As it turned out, the deficit was covered by responses to the shelter's mail solicitations. Money from the churches will be placed in a reserve fund that could cover operating costs for a three-month period "in case we run into a problem like we did this summer," said Graff. "The challenge is going to be extremely helpful toward moving us in that direction."

Members of the coalition have been pleasantly surprised by the response from people who are not active in the member churches but recognized the importance of the shelter, Graff said.

Members of the Annapolis Rotary Club donated about $1,200 after Green, a member of the club, went to a meeting and announced the shelter's problem. By the end of the meeting, individual members had begun offering money.

"It wasn't an official act of the Rotary Club, but it speaks to the membership," said George Shenk, the club's president.

The club also is working with other Annapolis civic groups to coordinate a spring fund-raiser for the shelter, Shenk said. The fund-raiser would be the first time all the area civic groups will have worked together.

"It's really pulled a lot of the groups together," Shenk said.

Green said he hopes the challenge has acted as a beacon to shift people's focus back to the needs of their community.

"After Sept. 11, a lot of money went out of the community and into other things," he said.

Now "we really need to think about our local communities first and care about our local communities first."

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