[cleeng_content id="798387126" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]RIPPON — For the last four years, Jefferson County’s homeless have had a place to go, thanks to a number of area churches that have set aside space for them — for meals, for assistance, for a place to lay their heads at night.
Jefferson County Homeless Coalition Vice President Bill Berry said its time the organization had a home of its own.
Come this November, the coalition just might, courtesy of a donation by the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, which was set up in the wake of the closure of the St. John’s Episcopal Church and has allowed the group to set up a cold weather shelter on the church’s grounds.
Since the coalition’s founding, two churches in Charles Town — St. James Catholic Church, Zion Episcopal Church — have provided nighttime accommodations to the county’s homeless population, while a third, Charles Town Presbyterian Church, had set aside space for a hospitality center staffed by volunteers who provided a number of services such as jobs searching, dental care and meals.
Homeless Coalition Vice President Bill Berry said the planned new building is needed to make the coalition and the people it serves less dependent on the participating churches’ facilities.
“Sundays are clearly when the homeless have no place to go,” Berry said. “In both cases of Zion and St. James, these facilities were being used for a lot of other things, so we went looking for an alternative.
“The goal of the Homeless Coalition would be to have a permanent facility,” Berry said. “There has not been a shelter of that type in Jefferson County for quite a few years now and our experience convinced us it would be a good thing to have.”
Other churches that have either provided a place for meals or outreach efforts are, in Charles Town, Asbury United Methodist Church, Charles Town Baptist Church,, St. Thomas Lutheran Church and Wainwright Baptist Church Other participating churches have been St. Agnes Catholic Church and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown, Harvest Point Community Church and the Bah’ai Faith of Jefferson County in Ranson, and Grace Episcopal Church in Middleway.
The new shelter will operate from November to March, and will provide an overnight lodging for as many as 16 people, men and women. Those being provided for will be bussed in each evening from Charles Town, where they’ll have been served a meal at one of the coalition’s participating churches.
Presently, the coalition has a three-year agreement for the use of the church at Rippon while it continues to search for a permanent home.
Berry acknowledges that the Rippon church was not the coalition’s first choice. Rippon, which straddles U.S. 340 is a few minutes’ ride from Charles Town, and getting those that are being helped there means getting them back to Charles Town each morning.
“We didn’t think of it as a highly desirable location,” Berry said, adding many of the volunteers who do food preparation for the coalition are elderly and don’t drive.
The donation of a 15-passenger bus by Charles Town Baptist Church helped coalition members resolve how to get the homeless to the shelter each day, but Berry said the matter of where they will take their meals is an issue that remains to be resolved.
Setting up in the new space still depends on a few things falling into place, however.
The fellowship hall needs a number of upgrades, including a new fire alarm, which said Berry, could cost as much as $11,000 to install.
“It’s the single biggest item that we need,” he said adding the hall will also need to have emergency exit lights put in and its bathrooms upgraded. The coalition also hopes to hire a part-time manager for the shelter.
Jefferson County Community Ministries President Bob DuBose said in order for the project to move forward this year donations are needed soon.
“Winter is approaching, and the coalition urgently needs more donations from churches, businesses, governments and individuals to pay for the necessary modifications in order to have a legal homeless shelter,” DuBose said. “We have an extraordinarily rich and diverse bunch of volunteers from all over our county to help with the shelter. I am convinced we will succeed.”
Berry said since its establishment, the coalition has served about 220 people at its onetime hospitality center at Charles Town Presbyterian, with the majority of them — between 75 to 80 percent — being residents of Jefferson County. In the first year the group began operating a homeless shelter at Zion Episcopal, it accommodated 21 men, with all but one of them being a county resident.
About 90 percent of the people being served by the Homeless Coalition are also being served by Community Ministries, said Bob Shefner, executive director of Community Ministries and a coalition board member.
To DuBose, the opening of a new cold weather shelter in Rippon is “embracing arms.”
“When so many loving and compassionate people come together to help our brothers and sisters who have no homes, no shelter, this coming winter, it sort of sends a symphony of great power out to our whole state and country,” DuBose said. “This is what Jefferson County is all about!
“It is so cold, so terribly cold, when you have no home, no shelter, no place to go in brutal winter … well, there are loving people, who will give you love and shelter. No questions, just embracing arms,” he said. “The Jefferson County Homeless Coalition will do that, this winter, with help.”
Shefner said his hope is that the Charles Town community will embrace its homeless members, even in the midst of concerns they might have about their presence.
Shefner said one concern the community might have is what happens after 15 people are dropped off by bus on the corner of Washington and Lawrence streets outside the Community Ministries center.
He said he would like to find ways to engage them in work in the community.
“These people have skills, they don’t want to be idle,” Shefner said. “If we can give folks something to do they can be busy and they can be observed and they can be around good people. These people aren’t freeloading, they can be contributing. There are more similarities than differences with people without homes, yes, there may be additions and there may be mental health issues, but they are a pretty decent bunch.”
To give to the Homeless Coalition, send your donation to Bob DuBose, at P.O. Box 999, Harpers Ferry, 25425, or mail it to Community Ministries at 238 W. Washington St., Charles Town, WV 25414.