Faced with a three-month deadline, construction crews and volunteersare scurrying to convert an old Annapolis convenience store into an emergency shelter so the homeless don't end up back on the streets.

Annapolis Area Ministries, a coalition of seven churches building apermanent home for the Light House shelter, only has until the end of May to complete construction. In June, St. Mary's Catholic Church wants to renovate its Charles Carroll House, a historic brick parish house now used for the homeless shelter.

Founded in 1988 by the ecumenical coalition, the Light House started as a roving shelter that moved from church to church. But growingnumbers of homeless seeking food and shelter soon strained church facilities. For many homeless men and evicted families, the shelter offered the only refuge from sleeping under bridges or staying with relatives in overcrowded apartments.

The ministry group decided last spring to find a permanent home for the shelter and settled on the former Capitol Convenience store on West Street. Dismayed business owners and area residents promptly challenged the move, delaying the shelter from opening.

Two community groups, who feared the project would hurt efforts to revitalize the neighborhood, lost their suit to block the shelter in November. Since then, Annapolis Area Ministries hascollected start-up money and brought Habitat for Humanity on board.

"We're ready to roll," said Jake Thomas, the shelter's new director. "The building is gutted and ready for renovation."

Constructionworkers will start building the bedroom, kitchen and baths on the first floor this week, Thomas said. When finished, the Light House willoffer 12 emergency beds on the first floor and two apartments upstairs for homeless families.

Thomas finished negotiating with housingofficials Friday to pay for most of the $150,000 project with Community Development Administration grants. Financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the grant program is administeredby the city and state. Annapolis Area Ministries also raised about $30,000 for the renovation.

The Anne Arundel chapter of Habitat forHumanity, a nationwide, non-profit affordable housing agency, offered to help build the shelter. Melvin Merritt, a Severna Park builder who volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, is supervising construction.

"We were looking for something to keep us busy and saw the Light House shelter as the way to go," said Merritt, who will oversee the roofing, plumbing, electric and construction contractors.

Contractors must be paid union wages under a federal law on projects financed through HUD. But many Annapolis businesses and volunteers have donated their services to help cut the cost, Thomas said.

"A great portion comes from local people who have donated ma

terial and energiesto the project," he said. "We have volunteers working here every weekend."

The shelter must be finished in three months because St. Mary's already has delayed plans to rehab the Charles Carroll House, overlooking Spa Creek.

"It's probably nip and tuck at this point, but I'm telling everyone that I will have this place up and running in May," Thomas said.

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