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Churches to shelter homeless from cold

By Staff | Dec 17, 2010

CHARLES TOWN – Churches in Jefferson County will begin hosting nightly cold-weather shelters for the homeless later this month and in early January.

A shelter for women and children will open at St. James Catholic Church on Dec. 21, and a shelter for men will open at Zion Episcopal Church on Jan. 2. Both churches are located in Charles Town.

Establishing cold-weather shelters has been a priority for the Jefferson County Homeless Coalition, which is part of Jefferson County Community Ministries, and they are the first step toward establishing a permanent homeless shelter in the county, JCHC member Bob Shefner said.

While two churches will host the shelters, a number of churches of every denomination throughout the county have helped the project by donating money and various toiletry items, committing to cooking hot meals for those seeking refuge at the shelters and volunteering time, Shefner said.

“There’s been lots of really good participation throughout the community with churches and other organizations,” he said. “It’s really quite a good community effort.”

The JCHC originally wanted to open the cold-weather shelters earlier, possibly during November, but the participating churches had to meet certain standards, including fire codes, to be able to host the shelters.

“The work will be finished this week, and if all goes well we’ll be ready to go,” said Bill Berry with St. James. “We have lots of volunteers, teams are set up, materials are ready; we’ll be ready to go as soon as we get the clearance from the fire marshal.”

Both Berry and Shefner said they would have liked the shelters to be open by now because of the cold weather.

“I think we’re all very much aware of how cold it’s getting and wish that circumstances had been such that we could have opened earlier, but we’ll get open when we can,” Shefner said. “At Zion Episcopal we had to put in special fire doors, at St. James they also had the alarms systems and had to put in another door to make sure there were enough exits – all of which takes time and costs additional money.”

“We all feel sorry we don’t have them in operation right now,” Berry added. “We have no idea how many people might be suffering out there right now with the brutal weather.”

Once the shelters open, they are scheduled to stay open throughout the remaining winter months and into March.

The JCHC hopes it will be able to expand upon the experience of running cold-weather shelters this winter for the future.

“One of the things we’re hoping for is that we get lots of good info that will help us plan for the needs of a more permanent shelter, which is the second part of our overall plan,” Shefner said.

Despite the delays, the JCHC is grateful to the community for the continued support the cold-weather shelter initiative has received.

“We’d like to send a very large thank-you to everybody who has been involved and will be involved,” Shefner said.

Additional information on the JCHC can be obtained by calling JCCM at 304-725-3186.