Churches of­fer home­less shel­ter model

Record Observer - - NEWS -

STEVENSVILLE — Home­less­ness is real on the Mid-Shore. As we sit snugly in our homes this win­ter, there is an­other pop­u­la­tion not quite so for­tu­nate who might be “couch surf­ing” with fam­ily or friends, sleep­ing in cars, or even liv­ing in makeshift tents on the out­skirts of our towns.

Ac­cord­ing to Julie Lowe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Tal­bot In­ter­faith Shel­ter, “Ru­rally, home­less­ness looks very dif­fer­ent than in ur­ban ar­eas. Here on the Mid-Shore, it can go un­no­ticed be­cause it doesn’t look like the peo­ple we may see with signs ask­ing for money on the streets in our cities.”

Lowe goes on to ex­plain that many peo­ple hear the word “home­less” and it strikes fear in their hearts as they think of ur­ban sto­ries about peo­ple be­ing robbed or hurt by peo­ple in the cities which might have men­tal ill­ness or sub­stance abuse. She adds that the re­al­ity in ru­ral ar­eas is that more of the peo­ple who be­come home­less have fallen on bad luck – lost jobs, ill­ness, ac­ci­dents, or di­vorce or chang­ing fam­ily sta­tus.

Lowe adds, “The peo­ple who are home­less on the Mid-Shore can go un­no­ticed be­cause they want to be un­no­ticed. There is a stigma at­tached to home­less­ness. Peo­ple judge you be­cause they don’t un­der­stand how your sit­u­a­tion hap­pened. “Many of these peo­ple are try­ing to piece it all to­gether them­selves and don’t want peo­ple to know their strug­gles. It is of­ten a cri­sis, like cold weather, that has them com­ing to the doors of our shel­ters.”

Krista Pet­tit, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Haven Min­istries of Queen Anne’s County, adds that it is dif­fi­cult to know the true num­ber of home­less in­di­vid­u­als on the Shore be­cause the pop­u­la­tion is dis­persed in a ru­ral area. Fund­ing for home­less pro­grams are greater in the metropoli­tan ar­eas where the num­bers are more con­cen­trated. Ac­cord­ing to Pet­tit and Lowe, be­cause fund­ing is lim­ited in ru­ral ar­eas, part­ner­ships with com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions are cru­cial to meet­ing the needs, in par­tic­u­lar, the role of the church com­mu­nity in meet­ing the needs.

Lowe adds, “The church model is how the Shore orig­i­nally dealt with the home­less pop­u­la­tion in the win­ter months. Through a ro­tat­ing sea­sonal shel­ter, com­mu­ni­ties were able to of­fer shel­ter in the evenings for peo­ple in need in area churches.”

Tal­bot In­ter­faith Shel­ter was a ro­tat­ing church model for six years, ro­tat­ing dur­ing the win­ter sea­son be­tween seven to 10 churches and the Syn­a­gogue, be­fore find­ing a per­ma­nent shel­ter lo­ca­tion in Eas­ton two years ago. Haven Min­istries Shel­ter has also op­er­ated as a church model for the past 12 years, uti­liz­ing Kent Is­land United Methodist Church in Stevensville as its sea­sonal shel­ter lo­ca­tion. Both TIS and Haven Min­istries still uti­lize churches to pro­vide fund­ing, meals, and vol­un­teers to help run their shel­ters.

Lowe com­ments, “There seems to be more ac­cep­tance of the church model and more stigma as­so­ci­ated with a per­ma­nent shel­ter.”

Pet­tit adds, “Churches are shel­ters for the shel­ter.”

Both Lowe and Pet­tit agree that the neigh­borly feel­ing in ru­ral ar­eas con­trib­utes to the com­mu­ni­ties tak­ing care of their own. Many peo­ple have grown up vol­un­teer­ing in the church shel­ter model, but as a new generation comes of age, many have never had the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pet­tit adds, “There is now need to ed­u­cate the next generation about how they can vol­un­teer and help with this is­sue.”

The is­sue to­day with home­less­ness can be com­plex. Ac­cord­ing to Lowe and Pet­tit, peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how hard it is for peo­ple with chil­dren to get jobs be­cause of the is­sues around child care in our ru­ral ar­eas. Other is­sues in­volve the avail­abil­ity of men­tal health treat­ment/coun­sel­ing, and get­ting proper doc­u­men­ta­tion (birth cer­tifi­cates, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, and driver’s li­censes). With the Shore’s im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, there can also be lan­guage bar­ri­ers and an in­su­lar com­mu­nity to con­tend with.

Jea­nine Beasley, Con­tin­uum of Care Man­ager at Shore Be­hav­ioral Health, the core ser­vice agency for be­hav­ioral health in the five coun­ties on the Mid-Shore, com­ments, “Like most ru­ral ar­eas, there are lim­ited re­sources to deal with the is­sues sur­round­ing home­less­ness. In the area of men­tal health treat­ment/coun­sel­ing, it can take a while to be seen by a men­tal health provider. Tal­bot In­ter­faith Shel­ter and Haven Min­istries both have part­ner­ships with area out­pa­tient men­tal health providers — For All Sea­sons and Cor­sica River Men­tal Health — which can help ad­dress these is­sues more quickly.”

In ad­di­tion to men­tal health is­sues, Beasley points to the lack of af­ford­able hous­ing and sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment as other is­sues fac­ing our com­mu­ni­ties to­day. She adds, “There is a lack of aware­ness about this is­sue on the Mid-Shore. Most peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the rea­sons peo­ple find them­selves in these dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. Not ev­ery­one has a safety net of fam­ily and friends to help them when a cri­sis hap­pens. Both TIS and Haven Min­istries are try­ing to help their clients build that safety net to help them get back on their feet.”

Pet­tit states, “Year to year, the age of clients in our shel­ter can vary. Be­cause you have to be 18 or older to stay alone in a shel­ter, there are is­sues with youth home­less­ness in our county. We are now ex­plor­ing ways to ad­dress this.”

She adds, “There are also is­sues with the el­derly due to fi­nan­cial and health is­sues, be­ing dis­con­nected from fam­ily, and hav­ing no sup­port sys­tems.”

The goal of both TIS and Haven Min­istries is to get shel­ter clients sta­bi­lized through case man­age­ment ser­vices so that their clients can tran­si­tion into hous­ing of their own. Both com­mu­ni­ties face chal­lenges in find­ing af­ford­able tran­si­tional hous­ing. Tal­bot In­ter­faith Shel­ter part­ners with the Hous­ing Com­mis­sion of Tal­bot to pro­vide apart­ments to their fam­i­lies tran­si­tion­ing into their own hous­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Car­lene Phoenix, deputy di­rec­tor of the Hous­ing Com­mis­sion of Tal­bot, “Although Tal­bot County is one of the wealth­i­est coun­ties in the state of Mary­land, we need more af­ford­able hous­ing units for our work­force. Specif­i­cally, we need more in­come-based units for our min­i­mum wage earn­ers.”

Phoenix ex­plains that although The Hous­ing Choice Voucher Pro­gram (for­merly Sec­tion 8 Pro­gram) can help pro­vide rental as­sis­tance for hous­ing for el­i­gi­ble fam­i­lies, the pro­gram’s fed­eral fund­ing is not at a level to meet the needs in Tal­bot County.

Un­til some of these changes oc­cur, in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies on the MidShore face the re­al­ity of qui­etly piec­ing to­gether re­sources to meet their chang­ing needs when cri­sis hap­pens — of­ten go­ing un­no­ticed in our com­mu­ni­ties.

For in­for­ma­tion about how you can help with ru­ral home­less­ness by vol­un­teer­ing, part­ner­ing, or do­nat­ing to ei­ther Tal­bot In­ter­faith Shel­ter in Tal­bot County or Haven Min­istries in Queen Anne’s County, call Julie Lowe (TIS) at 410-310-2316 or Krista Pet­tit (Haven Min­istries) at 410-739-4363.

The new sleep­ing space in Haven Min­istries Shel­ter at Kent Is­land United Methodist Church in Stevensville.

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