2017-11-15 / Front Page

Coalition readies overnight cold-weather shelters for homeless

by Kate Evans

As cold weather arrives and nighttime temperatures fall below 16 degrees, local homeless people will have more shelter options.

A new Morgan County Homeless Coalition has organized temporary overnight winter shelters where people without a place to stay can be warm and safe and get a hot meal.

A 7-day-a-week overnight shelter will be open from December 1 through March 1 and will rotate weekly between five area churches.

Host churches for the rotating shelter are: First United Methodist Church, Trinity Asbury United Methodist Church, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Berkeley Baptist Church and Hancock United Methodist Church, said First United Methodist Church Pastor Doug Hoffman, Homeless Coalition member.

Several churches have vans that will provide transportation to outlying churches.

The shelter

Shelter locations will have enough cots, bedding and linen to accommodate up to 12 people, but organizers expect up to six guests a night, Hoffman said. At least two trained host shelter volunteers will staff each location.

Morgan County Homeless Coalition chairperson Pastor Phil King of Calvary United Methodist Church emphasized that shelters will be for nighttime only. Shelter doors will open each night at 6 p.m. and a light hot dinner will be served from 6 to 7 p.m. A light breakfast will be served from 6 to 7 a.m. after which overnight guests will leave and the shelter will close. Food will be prepared by volunteers.

Each guest will receive a resource packet listing contact information for the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), social service agencies and organizations, job skills and job training programs, employment opportunities and long-term housing, King said. They’ll also get a personal hygiene kit with toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap and deodorant.

Every Saturday Homeless Coalition members will deliver the cots and fresh bedding and linens to the next church, King said.

The overnight shelter schedule will be posted at local law enforcement offices and promoted through area agencies, but mostly it will spread by word-of-mouth since the homeless community is small.

If more than 12 people show up, they’ll be turned away because shelters won’t have the resources to accommodate more people than that, King noted.

Desperate calls for help

King said as pastor, he often gets calls from desperate people asking for help. Maybe one church can put homeless people in a hotel for a couple of nights and between churches they could maybe do it for a week, but churches can’t sustain that kind of expense. They could send individuals to a 24-hour homeless facility in Martinsburg but people don’t want to go that far away. There are no homeless shelters in Morgan County.

“We felt we could do better than that and that God expected us to do better,” King said. “The homeless are here -- they’ve been here for years.”

King said the temporary overnight winter shelter would serve anyone who is homeless, whether from joblessness, domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness. The group’s mission is to provide a warm bed and a hot meal and to get people out of the cold for one night.

Number of local homeless

Local law enforcement has estimated there could be six year-round local homeless people, King said. Police know where the homeless sleep.

While there are different agency definitions of homelessness, King said the government’s definition of homeless is anyone living on the streets without shelter.

The January 2017 Pointin Time homeless survey count found three homeless people in Morgan County, according to information from the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness.

The coalition

The Homeless Coalition had its first meeting in October of 2016 to try to put together a three-year shelter program. Members looked at shelter programs in other counties, King said. They borrowed a lot from Jefferson County and other existing programs and the expertise of others.

The coalition recently became a 501c3 non-profit organization.

The Morgan County Homeless Coalition meets on the second and fourth Mondays at Starting Points at 5:30 p.m. Area newspapers and television stations, King said, have covered their meetings and efforts to create a temporary overnight winter shelter.

The group had booths at the Morgan County Expo and Apple Butter Festival and a float in the Apple Butter Parade. The group also has a Facebook page.

Has community support

King said the Morgan County Homeless Coalition has widespread community support from local law enforcement and businesses. CNB just gave a financial donation. The Country Inn donated bedding, sheets and pillowcases for the shelter and provided free use of their facility for volunteer training sessions that were conducted in cooperation with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department.

Coldwell Banker staff raised money through their firm’s Apple Butter Festival parking and Lynn Perry and Tess Seville from Coldwell Banker also give their time and work as coalition members, said Cynthia Robertson, Starting Points program coordinator and coalition member.

The effort also has the full support of the faith community, King said.

At least a dozen area churches are involved through contributions of money, supplies and equipment, providing volunteers, hosting the shelter or serving on the coalition board.

Morgan County Homeless Coalition members are representatives from churches, businesses and county agencies as well as concerned citizens.

Other members of the coalition are Morgan Charge United Methodist Church Pastor Lloyd McCanna, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Lay Pastor Dick Voorhaar, Laura Falcon, Lynette Kell, DHHR representative Peter VanKleek, Matt Stevens, Ben Gregory, Carol Grow, David Grow and Carmen Winiarski.

Concerns

Pastor King said the data doesn’t support the idea that a temporary overnight winter shelter would mean a major influx of homeless to the area.

King said larger cities like Charleston have large numbers of homeless people already living there that are now taking advantage of services that hadn’t been offered before. Those individuals are now being included in the official homeless count.

Nearby cities like Martinsburg, Hagerstown and Winchester have 24-hour homeless facilities with many more resources available than Morgan County. He feels that homeless people would gravitate there, not here where resources are limited.

Robertson said homeless people aren’t coming from other places –they’re here. She believes that we’re judged as a society by how we treat each other. Morgan County has no services for the homeless.

“To sit here winter after winter and do nothing is just unacceptable. This is how the coalition got formed. There are many people feeling that way,” she said.

Robertson said the overnight winter shelter is a community answer to a problem.

Town council

The Bath Town Council has invited the Morgan County Homeless Coalition to make a presentation at their Tuesday, November 21 meeting.

King said the unknown is always unsettling and that their organization needs to listen to and address community concerns.

King was confident that concerns would subside once accurate and factual information about the shelter replaced the misinformation and rumors that are circulating.

Pastor Hoffman said their greatest need is volunteers to staff the shelter overnight and volunteers to prepare and serve meals. Financial contributions and donations of supplies are welcome. Donations are tax-deductible.

The coalition can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 304, Berkeley Springs, WV, 25411 or email at morgan countyhc@gmail.com.

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