CHARLES TOWN — A gift from state funds has kept alive the hope that a homeless shelter will open this fall in Jefferson County.
The Homeless Coalition of Jefferson County accepted $20,000 from Senate Majority Leader John Unger at the Oct. 3 meeting of the Jefferson County Commission meeting, money that was secured from discretionary funds that were left over from last year’s budget.
[cleeng_content id="124224452" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Unger said the safety of people in hard situations during cold weather is one that cannot be ignored. He said the number of children needing help has risen in the last two years.
“There are 757 children that have been identified as homeless or having inadequate facilities in Jefferson County alone, up from two years ago, when less than 500 were identified in a report,” Unger said, adding that families need a place to turn to when bad situations arise.
“My fear is when people have inadequate shelter or other problems, like when the electricity is turned off,” he said. “If a family or individual is caught in a situation where it drops below a certain temperature, there is a danger of loss of life. Until we can solve the affordable housing situation, we need to have something as far as a temporary, emergency cold weather shelter in place for anyone, not just the homeless. The grant is for that purpose,” he said.
Unger said one part of the grant will go to the shelter and the other part will go to the Partnership for Affordable Housing.
“The grant is a twofold grant,” he said, adding while a long-term solution is needed, the grant will help families in need this winter.
“The short-term is to get through this winter where no one gets injured or there is no loss of life because of freezing weather,” he said.
Unger said he has asked the Department of Health to work with Community Ministries and the Jefferson County Homeless Coalition to come up with an adequate facility that can be used as a shelter.
“I know of families that are living out of their cars. I have delivered blankets to people who get into hard times and literally sleep in their vehicle with their children,” he said.
He said the purpose of the grant was not to insert himself into the ongoing issue of a proposed cold weather shelter in Rippon, which has been met with strong opposition from nearby residents.
“I don’t want to get into the debate about the shelter in Rippon,” he said. “It was the only place that was identified for the Coalition at the time. They had no other option but to go from church to church.”
The Homeless Coalition was denied a permit by the county’s zoning office on Sept. 17 to use St. John’s Episcopal Church as a shelter. The Coalition will appeal the decision at 2 p.m. Thursday at the meeting room in the Charles Town Library.
Unger said time is running out for a solution.
“My goal for the $20,000 is to bring all the organizations together to accomplish this for the people of Jefferson County and have this as a safety provision that we hope nobody needs to use, but if assistance is needed, there is assistance out there to help,” he said. “I am interested in getting a community solution. We need to focus on the fact that if someone is cold and doesn’t have the resources to protect themselves from the weather, there should be a way that we as a community can assist them. I encourage folks to come together and find valuable solutions. We don’t have much time. Winter is almost upon us.
“If we have loss of life due to the cold weather, then shame on all of us,” he said.[/cleeng_content]