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Churches run short on shelter Homeless housing plan needs help


Fewer than half the number of North County churches needed for a revolving shelter for homeless men this winter have offered space, according to Peggy Vick, director of the Salvation Army in Northern Anne Arundel.

"We'd hoped to have more," she said last week. "We're still trying to call churches."

So far, six churches and the Salvation Army have indicated they will house up to 12 homeless men for one week each, said the Rev. Olin Herndon, pastor of Glen Burnie United Methodist Church. Governing bodies of several more churches have yet to meet on the question, and a few more churches offered to send volunteers and food to the churches that will serve as temporary shelters, he said.

This falls far below the 16 churches needed as shelters under the original "Winter Relief for the Homeless" plan. The revolving shelter was devised by a small group that grew out of the Glen Burnie Ministerium, a coalition of some two dozen area churches. The group's plan called for the all-volunteer shelter to start Nov. 23 and run for 16 weeks, one week at each church.

The group sent letters last month to 75 churches from Linthicum to Severna Park, asking them to help housing homeless men during the winter's coldest months.

Oct. 1 was deadline for responses.

"Will the program go forward?" Mr. Herndon asked. "Yes, it will go forward. We may not have 16 weeks, but we will have more than we had last winter."

With no shelter in North County last winter, homeless people huddled under highway viaducts, made their way to abandoned buildings and slept in cars, Ms. Vick said.

Mr. Herndon said he was disappointed that so few churches responded, but said he understood the reluctance to undertake an untested project that asks churches to become inns and congregants to become hosts to strangers.

"The issue of the homeless is an issue many communities struggle with. I guess I was naive to think it wouldn't be a struggle here," he said.

His 1,200-member church agreed to act as a shelter for a week, and provide dinner and breakfast, along with the approximately 50 volunteers needed for the effort.

Church meetings usually held downstairs will have to move elsewhere in the building, and there will be other inconveniences of having the men there from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., he said.

"It is inconvenient to accommodate the homeless. But we can do no less," Mr. Herndon said. He said it is better for a homeless person to be allowed to sleep on a wooden pew than run the risk of freezing to death on a chilly winter night.

The Rev. Richard Hase, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Glen Burnie, was among the organizers of the shelter. His church is offering to help with volunteers and money, but not to house the homeless men.

"They couldn't figure out how they were going to rearrange the building here," he said. The church's fellowship hall, which could be used for a temporary shelter, is in use nightly, and shuffling the various uses was not possible because nearly every other room in the church is used nearly every night of the week, the Mr. Hase said.

Churches were given about a month's notice of shelter plans, which probably was not enough for many, he said.

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