by Kate Evans
As the area faced dangerous winter storms, brutal overnight temperatures and below zero wind chills, those needing shelter had somewhere to take refuge this past week through the continuing efforts of the Morgan County Homeless Coalition.
The Homeless Coalition offers a 7-day-a-week temporary overnight shelter that rotates weekly between area churches. It opened December 1 and operates through March 1. Shelter locations are manned every night by two trained shelter host volunteers. This is the second winter for the effort.
Morgan County Homeless Coalition president and director Bill Grow said this year two people were sheltered at the Berkeley Springs Motel on November 29 and November 30 since the overnight low was 29 to 30 degrees. The church rotation began December 1 at Berkeley Baptist Church.
Grow said the number of people staying in the shelter has varied between two and seven people. That doesn’t count two families that came to town over Christmas. There were four in each family and they put each family up at the Berkeley Springs Motel since children under 18 aren’t permitted to stay at the homeless shelter.
Shelter doors open each night at 6 p.m. and a light hot dinner is served from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Breakfast is served from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. after which overnight guests leave and the shelter closes. Volunteers stay until around 7:15 a.m. for clean-up and leave by 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays when they pack up everything for the next church.
A schedule of where the shelter is operating can be found around the community, posted on the door at the Morgan County Public Library, at Food Lion, local banks and area businesses.
Church, community support
Four area host churches are hosting the shelter — Berkeley Baptist Church, Hancock United Methodist Church, Trinity Asbury United Methodist Church and St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church. St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Hancock joined the coalition in January, Grow said.
Berkeley Baptist Church has been instrumental in providing a van and volunteers to transport guests from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office to the outlying churches, as has First United Methodist Church. Coalition members are working on transportation now with one of the Hancock churches.
Grow said that at least a dozen area churches are involved in the homeless shelter efforts, through financial contributions, donating supplies and equipment, providing volunteers, hosting the rotating shelter or serving as Homeless Coalition officers or members.
The Morgan County Homeless Coalition this year had an outpouring of supplies and donations from the community, he said. Scarves, hats and gloves knitted by local groups were also donated for the homeless.
Each shelter guest receives a personal hygiene kit with toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap and deodorant. Donations of toiletries come from throughout the community.
Guests also get a resource packet with contact information for social service agencies and organizations, job training, employment opportunities and long-term housing.
Morgan County Homeless Coalition members include church, business and county agency representatives along with community members.
Other Homeless Coalition officers are Greenwood United Methodist Church Pastor Lloyd McCanna-vice-president, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Pastor Dick Voorhaar-treasurer and Grow’s wife Carol Grow-secretary.
The coalition meets monthly at Starting Points in Berkeley Springs.
The coalition has 47 host shelter volunteers that rotate staying overnight with guests. The shelter must have one male and one female volunteer to open each night.
They have 31 volunteers that make dinner for the homeless and that come in and serve it each evening and around four or five transportation volunteers.
Grow said they have a wonderful group of volunteers including volunteer coordinator Laura Falcon and shelter coordinator Maureen Ruggiero, who both do a fantastic job.
Temporary shelter guests are deeply appreciative of getting a hot meal and having somewhere warm to stay, said Grow.
They’re also had some success stories. One man that stayed with them 90 nights last year is now back with his kids in California. Another man that stayed at the shelter for 50 nights had a job and a vehicle but couldn’t afford an apartment. Staying at the shelter helped him save up enough money to get an apartment.
One homeless person told them last year that they saved his life, Grow said. The only place he had to stay was under a porch and he would’ve frozen to death there.
In the future, the Homeless Coalition would like to expand the rotating temporary shelter to add a week before and a week after since it’s often cold at night the last week of November and into March, he noted.
More shelter volunteers are needed. If interested in being a shelter volunteer, the volunteer schedule and applications can be found on the Morgan County Homeless Coalition website at MorganCountyHC.weebly.com. Volunteers must be age 18 or older.
The Morgan County Homeless Coalition is a 501c3 non-profit organization and donations are tax-deductible.
Contributions may be sent to the Morgan County Homeless Coalition, P.O. Box 304, Berkeley Springs, WV, 25411. More information is on their Facebook page or available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.