It began 10 years ago with one congregation and just two guests. Since then, Grassroots’ Cold Weather Shelter has served more than 700 people, and 24 Howard County congregations have hosted the program, providing a total of 22,711 bed nights.
The Cold Weather Shelter, a partnership between Grassroots, the faith community and Howard County Government, serves individuals and families during the winter season. Congregations host the program in their facilities from 6 p.m.-7a.m. seven days a week and provide transportation to and from the shelter, meals, laundry services and fellowship to the guests. In 2012, the Cold Weather Shelter became part of the new Coordinated System of Homeless Services in Howard County.
“It has been a blessing to work with so many wonderful coordinators and volunteers over the past 10 years,” said Grassroots Cold Weather Shelter Coordinator Anna Katz. “Their hard work and dedication has made our guests truly welcome when they step into each congregation. The program has changed so many lives for the better.”
Glen Mar United Methodist Church was the first congregation to commit to hosting the shelter. But by the time the first season ended on March 29, 2004, the program had served 61 guests with the help of eight hosting congregations.
Today, the program does much more than provide hot meals and shelter. A Grassroots case manager assists guests with job and housing searches and access to social services and mental health resources. And many congregations provide such extras as haircuts, massages, bible study, resume assistance, creative writing workshops, musical performances, legal services and more.
For many congregations, the Cold Weather Shelter has become an integral part of their mission and outreach activities. Some have even expanded their outreach to other programs, including the Grassroots Day Resource Center, which serves homeless people living outside along the Route One corridor in Howard County.
Members say they feel that they get more than they give.
“It made me realize that homeless people are not different from us,” one congregation member said.
The one disappointment for many Cold Weather Shelter volunteers is seeing some of the same faces year after year. Two of the shelter’s “frequent guests” used the program for six years.
One of those guests is Anthony, a troubled young man who was in and out of the Cold Weather Shelter for six seasons. Each time he entered the shelter he was asked to leave because he was intoxicated and belligerent.
But after six years of struggling to survive on the streets, he told the Cold Weather Shelter case manager he wanted to change his life so his young daughter would be proud of him. The case manager arranged through the Health Department for a bed in an inpatient rehab facility and drove Anthony to a facility in St. Mary’s County herself. After he completed the 28-day program, he entered a half-way house and later moved to Philadelphia where he had family support.
Anthony is doing well now and visits his daughter in Columbia as often as he can.
In all, the Cold Weather Shelter has served 780 people since it opened. Sixty-one percent were male, and 39 percent were female. Guests included 108 children.
Although the average age was 33, the program served people ranging in age from newborn to 75 years. Some of the reasons guests gave for needing the Cold Weather Shelter were formal or informal eviction, lack of money to pay for a place to live, domestic violence, family disputes and recently released from an institution. But often, other factors contributed to a guest’s homelessness including mental or physical health issues or addiction.
While some Cold Weather Shelter guests continue to struggle with homelessness year after year, others were able to find adequate housing. Many moved into the Grassroots shelter when space became available. Others with addictions went into residential treatment programs. Some moved in with family members. And some, like Anthony, achieved the best solution of all — living on their own.
Congregations That Have Hosted The Cold Weather Shelter
- Atholton Seventh Day Adventist Church
- Bethany United Methodist Church
- Chapelgate Presbyterian Church
- Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church
- Church of the Resurrection
- Columbia Community Church
- Cornerstone Community Church
- Covenant Baptist Church
- First Presbyterian Church
- Gary Memorial United Methodist Church
- Glen Mar United Methodist Church
- Grace Community Church
- Kittamaqundi Community Church
- Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church
- Locust United Methodist Church
- Mt. Zion United Methodist Church
- New Hope Seventh Day Adventist Church
- Owen Brown Interfaith Center
- St. John Baptist Church
- St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
- St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
- St. Paul’s Catholic Church
- Trinity Episcopal Church
- Valley Brook Community Church