Church leaders to gather for homeless summit

By Ryan Cornell

A number of church and community leaders from Shenandoah County are meeting on Thursday to discuss the county’s homelessness and find a way to tackle the mounting problem.

The meeting will be held at Antioch Church of the Brethren, located at 23502 Senedo Road, Woodstock, starting at 7 p.m. Thursday. Church pastor George Bowers said the meeting is open to anyone interested in solving the issue.

“We’re trying to pull together as many folks as possible to figure out a way to solve the homeless problem here in Shenandoah County,” he said.

Other pastors involved in organizing the interdenominational Partnership to Provide Temporary Housing are from churches in Woodstock, Edinburg, Lebanon Church and Columbia Furnace.

“I just believe this issue has been building for quite some time,” Bowers said. “It’s been on the hearts and minds of many people.”

The Point-in-Time Count, a tally of homeless individuals and families in Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties over a 24-hour period, recorded an increase in homelessness from January 2012 to January 2013. According to the count, the total amount of homeless individuals increased from 313 to 355, while total homeless families increased from 222 to 272. The count reported that unsheltered individuals grew from 51 to 69 and unsheltered families rose from 45 to 52.

Bowers said there have been many in his congregation who have paid hotel bills for the homeless and supported shelters like the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter, but the mission of the partnership is to find a long-term solution for the problem.

A major part of the meeting will be about how the community can team up with Family Promise and its Interfaith Hospitality Network, a national program dedicated to helping provide overnight accommodations and meals for homeless families through networking volunteers and congregations.

Claas Ehlers, director of affiliate services for Family Promise, said families with children make up 40 percent of the homeless population nationwide and that the number is even higher in rural areas such as Shenandoah County. He said he’s noticed an increase in the amount of families seeking shelter among the organization’s affiliates, and that counties such as Shenandoah have successfully applied the model.

“Instead of pumping all the money into bricks and mortar,” he said. “We use the bricks and mortar that’s already there in the congregations.”

Acknowledging that the problem is too complex to answer in a single night, Bowers said that next week’s meeting is just the first in a series.

“The first meeting will be organizational and informational,” he said. “Several follow-up meetings will be needed.”

He said the partnership is considering holding a second meeting in early December.

For more information, contact the Antioch Church of the Brethren at 540-459-3661.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com