When Mount Zion United Methodist Church sponsored a forum on the homeless in 1989, nine Howard County churches agreed to form a coalition to address the problem.
Today, 29 of nearly 200 county churches belong to Churches Concerned for the Homeless, Inc., a nonprofit corporation formed in 1990 to fight homelessness in the county.
"It's a moral and spiritual responsibility," said Teresa M. Chiaverini, executive director of the group, who will address Tuesday's countywide summit on homelessness. "It comes under 'Love your neighbor.' "
Mrs. Chiaverini, along with CCH's 21-member board and its 25 volunteers, works to find transitional housing for the homeless and to provide them with skills so they can beat poverty and homelessness.
"We try and get people back on their feet," she said, adding that CCH helps find employment, transportation and day-care services.
CCH's annual $25,000 budget comes from donations from congregations and individuals. The organization does not compete with other homeless agencies that receive government funding.
In its three years, CCH has provided shelter to six families, who typically have stayed 18 to 24 months.
In 1991, CCH bought a townhouse in Columbia, with help from the Maryland Shelter One Program. CCH also subleases an apartment to a homeless family.
Recently, St. John United Methodist Presbyterian Church in Wilde Lake gave CCH $10,000 for a new program to shelter single men in a condominium owned by the Shelter Foundation of Baltimore. Mrs. Chiaverini said CCH wants to sponsor a program for single women.
In her summit address, during which she will represent CCH and three other groups that help needy residents of the county, Mrs. Chiaverini plans to discuss congregation-based shelters.
Such shelters are provided by congregations that volunteer to let homeless people stay in their churches a week at a time.
This isn't a new idea. Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, a 20-bed shelter in Columbia, surveyed churches 3 1/2 years ago to see if they could provide temporary shelter. Fewer than 20 responded, she said.
"I'm hoping the climate will be better" this year, she said.
William O. Crowe, director of missions for the 20-year-old Howard Baptist Association, said he believes churches haven't become more involved because they didn't realize the extent of the need.
"I think the church community would respond if it knew a need was there," he said.