Nonprofits prepare for dropping temperatures, increasing need

Jennifer Smith sits on the bottom of a small twin bunk bed at the Alan P. Linton Jr. Emergency Shelter. She goes there each day around 6:30 p.m., when it opens, and leaves every morning by 7 a.m. During the day, she tirelessly searches for a job, walking into stores on every block to see if they’re hiring.

At the end of the day, she has to be back at the shelter, where each bunk bed comes within a few inches of one another and about 20 women share one room. This was a place Smith never expected she would find herself.

A few months ago, Smith had a job, a car and a house and lived with her five kids. Then, everything fell apart. She ended up living in a tent in Frederick.

When it started to get cold in October, she couldn’t take it anymore. “It was cold, wet, rainy,” she said. “The ground is hard.”

She wound up in the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs’ shelter.

That’s what happens to a lot of homeless people, Smith said. When temperatures go down, everyone living in a tent or outside vies for shelter.

After last winter, when the Religious Coalition sometimes struggled to provide for everyone in need, this season the organization is making changes. Other nonprofits in Frederick are also preparing for the winter months, implementing programs to ensure that everyone has heat, shelter and food.

Providing for the needy

This year, the Alan P. Linton Jr. Emergency Shelter at the Religious Coalition will be able to provide for more people, said the Rev. Brian Scott, executive director of the coalition. Instead of holding 80 people — the number of beds it has — the shelter can now accommodate up to about 100 people.

That number needed to be approved to make sure the space could safely fit everyone. Scott said it will not likely get more beds, but organizers can put down mats if people need a place to stay.

In the past, Scott said, the organization has never turned anyone away. If someone comes in need of shelter, the coalition — or other Frederick organizations — will always find a place for that person.

“The whole reason for the walk-in during the winter is to prevent people from freezing to death,” Scott said.

“Last year … it was very difficult to find enough spots for everybody,” he said, “so this year, it’ll give us a little bit more flexibility than we had in the past.”

This year, the Religious Coalition also provided rental assistance to a record number of people, Scott said. It has helped about 60 households, whereas the average is normally closer to 35 or 40, he said. This means fewer people will need emergency shelter going into the winter months, he said.

“Our main focus of the coalition is to try to prevent as many people from becoming homeless,” he said, “so they don’t need the shelters and the other things that are available.”

Scott said the organization has seen an increased need for shelter for women and seniors. The new Faith House — a shelter for women and children, scheduled to open in early 2016 — will help curb the problem.

The official opening date of Faith House, which will be run by the Frederick Rescue Mission, has not been announced yet, said Mike Greenberg, public relations manager for the mission.

The mission also works with the Religious Coalition during the winter to provide overflow room. The organization can hold about 10 men per night.

It has a day shelter open from 7 a.m. for breakfast until 5 p.m., if the weather drops below 32 degrees.

In addition to shelter, the organization hands out hats, blankets, gloves, scarves and other items every day for people in need. All someone needs to pick up the items are an ID, he said.

“As the weather gets colder, we get more and more people needing them,” Greenberg said. “The donations come in, and we’re able to meet those needs.”

Helping to prevent homelessness in the winter

Other than providing shelter, many Frederick nonprofits work to prevent people from becoming homeless, or living without heat, as the weather gets colder.

The Community Action Agency has a no-heat emergency response system. If someone doesn’t have heat, an official will respond within 48 hours to address the issue. To qualify, people have to be eligible for the program by income, said Brad Petersen, coordinator of housing and weatherization services at the Frederick Community Action Agency. The emergency calls are an “expedited process,” he said.

The organization still performs regular weatherization work during the winter months, he said. That includes energy audits and taking necessary steps to make sure a home is running as efficiently as possible.

The Office of Home Energy in Frederick County gives grants to people year-round for electric and heating bills. Grant funding comes in around the beginning of December, said Stacey White, the program manager at the office.

The office also manages Emergency Assistance to Families with Children, so it can help with a bill that a family has in an emergency situation.

Life in the shelter

Smith said living in a shelter hasn’t been easy. At first, it was intimidating.

As the weather gets colder, she expects the shelter to get more crowded. When the temperatures dropped earlier this year, she said, she saw an influx of people.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had to have this experience,” she said.

Her goal is to be out by mid-February. She’s doing everything in her power to make that happen — looking for a job and an apartment and taking classes. Her kids are her life, she said; she wants to get her life back together for them.

Still, she’s thankful she has a warm place to go and a bed to sleep on at night.

Outside, “it was just too cold,” she said.

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About the Author

Rebecca is a social services reporter at The Frederick News-Post. She graduated from Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and political science. She served as Managing Editor, Summer Editor-In-Chief and Campus Editor at The Daily Northwestern and previously interned at The Miami Herald.