December 16, 2009

Community, shelters help Shore homeless as temperatures dip

12-16-2009 Maryland:

OCEAN CITY -- It is mid-December and the weather is getting colder and colder, which can become deadly without a place to hang your hat.

Fortunately, there are a lot of kind-hearted people on the Lower Shore who never remain indifferent to the problems of others.

Local shelters always expect to get crowded during cold weather. But recent years have shown that during the holidays and cold weather, homeless people are being helped more by community families, leaving a lot of beds available in the shelters.

There are three year-round emergency shelters in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties that serve homeless people.

Diakonia in West Ocean City, which serves Worcester County, is one of them. It is a nonprofit private organization, categorized as a crisis shelter for men, women and families. It offers 40 emergency and transitional beds, food, counseling and help with future employment and permanent housing.

Executive Director Claudia Nagle said it routinely gets beds open, though family units stay occupied much longer.

"We have been completely full for over a month," Nagle said. "And we constantly get phone calls and people coming for help."

Even if there is no bed available, some assistance is still offered. Diakonia connects people with other shelters and the Department of Social Services, or suggests places where they can go.

"We don't have a waiting list," Nagle said. "We take down all the information, and then it's whoever calls or comes first."

Nevertheless, nobody is left without help.

Diakonia's food pantry is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and people do not have to stay in the shelter to get food.

Guests can stay in the shelter for 30 days if they meet all the requirements and follow the rules. They should be residents of Worcester County, be clean and sober for 24 hours prior to coming, abstain from drugs and alcohol, not be violent or a sex offender, and have a low income.

"We urge people to call before 3 p.m. so we will have time to find a place for them to stay if we do not have one, and we'll be ready for them," Nagle said.

Another Worcester County emergency shelter, accepting people from all three counties and located in Pocomoke City, is Samaritan Shelter. The shelter is open 24/7 and offers 28 beds for men, women and children, where they can stay up to 30 days.

Director Shelly Daniels said if guests follow the rules of the shelter, work and do not cause any problems, they are allowed to stay longer.

"We have a gentleman who has been here for four months because he could not find a place to move into," Daniels said. "We have a lot of beds open now; only nine are occupied at the moment."

Samaritan shelter feeds its guests three times a day. It also provides a food bank on Tuesdays and Saturdays and a soup kitchen on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

"Soup kitchen is for any people in the community who have low income or do not have income at all," Daniels said.

She has noticed there is a big increase in the number of people coming the last couple years.

"We used to serve just 10 to 12 meals," Daniels said. "This past Wednesday, we gave away 89 meals."

Daniels said most people needing the shelter lost their homes because they lost jobs, lost income and succumbed to mounting debt.

"We don't help people financially," Daniels said. "But we try to refer them to resources to help them. We also help them with finding a job and a place to move in, clothing, furniture and a lot more."

People can come to the shelter any time of the day or night and get help, though calls ahead are appreciated.


The only year-round full-time facility in Wicomico County is Christian Shelter Inc., located in Salisbury.

The shelter offers 50 beds for men, women and children, provides breakfast and dinner for its guests and gives bag lunches to children, people who work and to people with special needs. Stays typically do not exceed 30 days.

Administrator James S. Barnes said the most important service the shelter provides is counseling and helping people resolve problems that are causing continued homelessness.

"We provide people with spiritual guidance that things can be changed," Barnes said. "People get hope that things can get better."

During their stay, people are helped with finding jobs and securing permanent housing.

To stay at Christian Shelter, one only need be homeless and in need. Hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (10 p.m. is the curfew), and the facility is staffed 24 hours a day.

"But we still ask people to come during the hours of operation," Barnes said.
Barnes said the shelter stays full most of the year, but not so much during the Christmas holiday.

"During the holidays and in really cold weather, families with houses get more friendly and sympathetic to homeless people," Barnes said. "In winter, there are a lot more people willing to help the homeless. A lot of community people take homeless people to their houses, especially if children are involved."

Barnes added it would become busier later in January.

"At that time, from January to March, several churches will open their doors for homeless men," Barnes said. "So there won't be any people in the cold weather."

The churches operate on a rotating schedule.

For the second time, Hope And Life Outreach (HALO) will open an emergency shelter for women and children for the winter months. It will be open from Jan. 2 to March and will offer 85 beds. People will be able to stay there all 90 days.

Executive Director Celeste Savage said guests will be provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"But our main goal is not just to provide shelter," Savage said. "Our main goal is to give people hope and to help them to get out of hopelessness and homelessness."
Savage said during this time of the year HALO is usually crowded.

"January and February are always the busiest months for us," Savage said. "But I also feel there will be an increase in the number of guests this year due to a very bad economic situation."

All the shelters are very clean and comfortable and are ready to accept the homeless. Everyone is encouraged not to stay outside when it is freezing, but to go to the nearest shelter. ..Source.. Liudmila Chernova • Staff Writer

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