By Donna Clark RN, Director
The Community Emergency Shelter Project started 8 years ago after a winter in which two men froze to death on the streets of Salisbury. Local churches collaborated with the Social Work Department at Salisbury University to address this tragic circumstance. Dr. Tossi at the University and Father Tontonos of the Wicomico Ministerial Alliance stepped forward with a concept of churches opening their doors to homeless men for 1-2 weeks at a time through the most difficult time of the winter.
This project has done more than just preventing the men from freezing; it has provided a place for homeless men to find Christian love and compassion. As they gather for food, fellowship and a warm cot they also are able to access guidance to mental and physical health care. This season is no exception! A man who has lived in the woods around our community recently came for shelter. To stay at the shelter he had to maintain some sobriety and this was the key opportunity to reach him and connect him with services. He now has an ID, applied for state health insurance and his social security. His payments start next month and he is already looking for a place to stay within his income. He told me that when the shelter project is over he always ends up back in the woods and drinking. While using the shelter he feels more like a real person and he gets respect at the churches. When the project ends he is just another “bum” on the streets. This time he believes that he can make it with a monthly income and the support of his friends here at H.O.P.E., Inc. Two others have entered drug and alcohol rehab, one has been admitted to Johns Hopkins for surgery, and there are many other success stories.
The Community Emergency Shelter Project is more important to these men than you can ever imagine. Yes, some of them use it every year. Why is that? At the Churches the men feel the warmth of God’s love and you, the members of the churches, allow God to work through you providing a caring, loving place for them to rest. When they feel the respect, love and concern that only churches can give, the men feel that there is value in their lives. It’s a strain on each church financially, physically, and emotionally but I see it at every site. Pure unadulterated love with no price tag and total unconditional forgiveness is given to each man who enters the doors of your church home. Thank you for caring about the marginalized in our society and thank you for allowing God to work through you. You are impacting the lives of the men more than you will ever be aware of. God Bless each and every one of the volunteers of the Community Emergency Shelter Project.