For the past 10 winters, volunteers from churches throughout Charles County have been opening the doors of their places of worship to offer a good meal and a warm place to sleep for homeless people.
The brutal winter is drawing to a close, the weather is warming and the Safe Nights program will soon be coming to an end until next fall. The program will operate through April 15 this year, a few weeks longer than in the past when it closed at the beginning of April.
Safe Nights volunteers served a few hundred homeless men and women, and sometimes children, during the weeks of cold weather since Oct. 1.
As the program ends, the nightly shelter it offers will not be available to those who turn to it during bad weather. With the warmer temperatures many of these people will head back to their makeshift campsites or sleep in their cars. But not all of the homeless people served through these types of programs will be left to fend for themselves on the street. LifeStyles of Maryland, and other organizations, will continue their work to help these folks find food, clothing and housing. The groups will continue to work with social service agencies and other nonprofits that try to help the homeless find permanent housing that will allow them to live independently.
This often means grappling with problems of addiction, mental illness and other circumstances that left them without a permanent home. It’s not easy work, for those who are homeless or for those who want to help them find a new path. There are often setbacks.
These people deserve another chance to live the kind of life most of us take for granted.
At the end of January, volunteers searched in Southern Maryland for an annual one-day count of homeless people. They found hundreds living on the streets, in cars, vacant buildings, in tents in the woods and elsewhere.
Those numbers haven’t been released yet, but it’s too much to hope that the numbers have declined. Midway through the winter, officials at LifeStyles were constantly struggling to help the ever-increasing number of people who were seeking assistance. We’ve recently reported about federal money that is making its way to the region to help homeless veterans. Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will offer financial housing assistance for 21 veterans in the tri-county area. In 2014, the homeless survey counted 68 homeless vets in the region. The hope is that a nationwide change in strategy, which directs grant funding away from funding emergency beds for homeless people to long-term transitional housing, will make a difference.
It’s uncertain how successful this shift in federal resources will be, but it’s a blessing that we live in a nation whose wealth permits it to offer a hand to those who have nowhere else to turn.
It is also a blessing that we live in a community where people from dozens of faith groups host, on a rotating basis, homeless men and women and families overnight in their churches and church halls, and then also work to change their lives on a more permanent basis.