Harford honors churches, volunteers for winter rotating homeless shelters

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Harford County’s Emergency Rotating Homeless Shelter served 71 people this winter during its second year in operation, and many of those guests have since found housing and employment, according to organizers, who on Monday celebrated the efforts of volunteers and organizations that helped the program succeed.

“In the end, it’s all of us in this room that make it happen,” Howard Magness, a shelter program coordinator and member of the Hope for the Homeless Alliance steering committee, said.

Church pastors, site coordinators and representatives of allied organizations gathered for a luncheon Monday afternoon at MedStar Health’s Bel Air Medical Campus. Harford County Councilman Curtis Beulah presented certificates to individual honorees on behalf of the County Council.

The rotating shelter is a project of the nonprofit Hope for the Homeless Alliance, which worked with churches throughout Harford County, local government agencies, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, businesses and community organizations to provide nighttime shelter for homeless people from December through March.

The program also provides daytime shelters, transportation, medical support, and places for the guests to do their laundry and take showers.

Beulah expressed his personal thanks and thanks on behalf of the full council “for a job well done.”

“Being on the County Council for the last three-and-a-half years, I’ve just seen so many good people that are willing to volunteer their time,” he said.

Len Parrish, director of community and economic development for Harford County, told those in attendance that “we really do thank you for what you’ve done this winter and continue to do for us.”

Churches served as shelters

The rotating shelter had been serving homeless people during cold weather before the 33-bed Welcome One Emergency Shelter opened in Belcamp in 2006. The program was then restarted for the winter of 2016-2017 to support anyone who could not get into Welcome One once its beds were filled.

People could get into the rotating shelter after being screened by the Harford Community Action Agency in Edgewood, the county’s primary access point where people in need can obtain services, according to Bonnie Prater, also a coordinator with Hope for the Homeless Alliance.

Prater provided a list of 15 churches that provided winter shelters from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday and all day on Sundays. The shelter was at a different church each week.

Participating churches included Presbury United Methodist Church in Edgewood; St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bel Air; Joppatowne Christian Church; Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air; Hopewell United Methodist Church in Havre de Grace; New Hope Baptist Church in Bel Air; Havre de Grace United Methodist Church; St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Aberdeen; Aberdeen Bible Church; Salem United Methodist Church in the Kingsville area; Harford Community Church in Bel Air; Centre United Methodist Church in Forest Hill; Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Fallston; Norrisville United Methodist Church; and Cornerstone Church in Joppa.

New Hope Fellowship Church in Edgewood operated a day shelter from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, and Victorious Faith Fellowship in Forest Hill operated a day shelter on Saturdays. The Epicenter at Edgewood, a community center and the Edgewood campus for Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, partnered with the alliance to provide space for showers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, according to Prater.

The alliance also secured donations to provide items such as laundry vouchers and bus passes. The organization worked with Upper Chesapeake Health to provide security at the night shelters, plus ensure guests who had to go to the hospital left with their prescription medications and had transportation back to the night or day shelters, Prater said.

“That was a godsend this winter, that we had that partnership with the hospital,” she said after the luncheon.

Phil Palmere, a security supervisor at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and the volunteer head of security for the shelters, was among the honorees Monday.

Prater said the security staffers, including staff from the hospital, were paid with funds from the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development. That department was merged with the Office of Economic Development earlier this year to create the Office of Community and Economic Development, headed by Parrish.

Palmere said security staff screened guests before they entered the shelter, and they were on hand through the night.

“It made those who needed the shelter more comfortable knowing that security staff was on board and that they were trained security staff,” he said.

Anyone who wants to support the rotating shelter with donations can mail a check to: Community Foundation of Harford County, P.O. Box 612, Bel Air, MD 21014. Donors should write “Community Foundation of Harford County with HCHHA,” or Harford County Hope for the Homeless Alliance, on the memo line.

Call Bonnie Prater at 410-404-8747 or email bonnieprater@comcast.net with any questions.

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