Safe Nights off to an early start this year to shel­ter the home­less

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

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.

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