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Anne Arundel homeless find shelter with Winter Relief program

The bitter arctic cold will last another day or two before relief comes early next week, a welcome statement for area homeless who have been scurrying to find beds in shelters in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

With blustery winds driving already bone-chilling temperatures below zero, the efforts of area churches and others to aid those in need are warmly appreciated.

“I have stayed in my car for almost a month now,” said Jeff Shelton, who lost his housing late last year. “I have only been here three days, but this place is a godsend.”

He was lucky enough to get one of 100 spots with the county’s Winter Relief program. Run by the Arundel House of Hope, the program puts the good graces of about 70 area churches to work serving the homeless. Three churches at a time open their doors on a rotating basis, some churches pitching in more than once a year.

Shelton was grateful to get out of the cold. “This weather is just horrible. The wind goes right through you, even when I’m sleeping in my car.”

Chris Thomas has been homeless for about four years. He and his wife make do, not taking more than they need, he said.

“The House of Hope have been a tremendous help — clothes, food, shelter, you name it,” he said. “This cold, it’s brutal, actually brutal. We were out there, my wife was in tears it was so cold.

Other than getting out of the cold, the Arundel House of Hope Day Center provides a place to relax, Thomas said. “When you are out there on the street leading a rough life, you don’t get time to relax.”

Last year the Winter Relief program served 239 individuals, most for multiple nights, and served 45,489 meals.

People seeking shelter congregate at two pickup points — one in Annapolis for those living in that area and south county, and the other at the House of Hope in Glen Burnie. From there, vans and buses transport them to one of three churches hosting that week.

There are rules. People must be sober and on time, reporting to the two collection spots between 3:30 and 4 p.m. daily. In addition to the warm lodgings, they get an evening meal and breakfast, plus a bag lunch for the next day.

Pam Biddlecomb is director of the day center and the Winter Relief program. Despite the gracious help from dozens of churches and synagogues, there are still needs, she said.

“Our greatest need is need blankets,” she said. “And Sterno, hats, gloves, anything to stay warm.”

And warmer weather will come next week, after another night or two of bitter cold with wind chills expected to reach 10 degrees below zero Saturday night.

Sunday will begin to moderate with highs in the 20s during the day and about 17 degrees at night — equal to Saturday’s high.

“The cold spell we have been in for the last couple weeks will begin to lift Monday and Tuesday,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hofmann. “We should see a pretty significant about-face and by the end of the week it will feel downright balmy. We could see temperatures in the 50s.”

A few days ago the warmup was set to kick in Monday, with highs in the low 40s, but the latest forecast pulls that back to the high 30s. It will be above freezing but a 50 percent chance of a wintry mix of rain, freezing rain and sleet could make for a miserable day and a troublesome commute.

Tuesday will be lovely compared to the past week, with a high in the mid-40s under mostly sunny skies.

By Friday, the temperature could top 50 degrees, with relatively warm weather in the forecast into the following week.

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