Safe Nights off to an early start this year to shelter the homeless
With the weather cooling down and dusk arriving sooner, LifeStyles Inc. decided to start Safe Nights earlier this year to help shelter the homeless until the warmer weather returns.
Safe Nights is a way for the community to unite and serve the homeless within the region. The program was created by LifeStyles and it provides overnight shelter to individuals and families from Oct. 1 to April 21 of each year. The program rotates to a different host site each week, providing dinner and breakfast from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. Staff and volunteers are available on-site to provide supervision and coordination of services while participants are provided with everything they need for their stay, including cots, linens and toiletry items.
“We want to provide emergency shelter and get people off the streets no matter what their circumstances are,” said LifeStyles Executive Director Sandy Washington. “We currently have 85-90 organizations working with Safe Nights in Charles County alone. This program is proof that you can give back, help somebody that’s in need and you can do it in a safe environment. The people who come in are screened and the Safe Nights hosts are safe themselves in giving back.”
According to LifeStyles, the
severity of homelessness in Southern Maryland is large. Washington said Charles County has 75 percent of Southern Maryland’s homeless population, and there are 520 homeless children registered in Charles County Public Schools.
“This is an issue that we can conquer and address together. The first step is acknowledging that we have a problem,” Washington said.
LifeStyles Assistant Director Corae Young said that since the organization started Safe Nights on Oct. 1, they have registered 35 individuals, including children, and so far they have helped 20 of those individuals. Last year, Safe Nights helped 197 people and this year their goal is to help shelter more than 200.
“We’ve started Safe Nights starting at the beginning of October for two reasons: one because we’ve had quite a few churches who wanted to host the program and we couldn’t fit everyone in the regular schedule of November to March, and also because it started getting colder in October so we felt the need to expand the program to a full seven months of the year,” Young said.
Washington said three homeless individuals died last year due to not having shelter and she refuses to see that happen again.
“We don’t want to have any more deaths happen on our watch so we want people to realize rather than staying out in cold they need to come in for shelter,” Washington said. “There is bad weather, rain and snow, people are living in tents, and people living in their cars, so when they come in for shelter we can also link them to other resources. We’re talking about saving lives.”
Young said the staff at LifeStyles also does street outreach, where volunteers travel around the county on a weekly basis checking on the homeless and encouraging those individuals to move into permanent shelter.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a drop-in shelter in the county where the homeless can be out of the elements every and any night,” Washington said. “The screening does limit who can be helped but we have so many homeless who are dealing with mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, and that doesn’t mean they should be out in the cold. We need to have a drop-in shelter and we hope to grow to that soon.”
Washington and Young believe Safe Nights has been beneficial to the county and with the help of the faith-based community, as well as the staff’s endurance, the program is here to stay.
Safe Nights is in need of other resources for the homeless such as fuel cards for those who live in their cars, a warehouse for storage, financial resources to hire more helping hands, winter items — coats, scarves, hats, gloves and gift cards to local fast food restaurants. Anyone interested in helping to contribute to Safe Nights can contact Washington at 301-609-3550.