“If you’d asked me in the middle of September, I’d have said ‘I don’t think we’re to going to make it this winter,’” Richmond County Mental Health Society Chairman John Baker said this week. “Then, donations started coming in, and area churches got involved, and we were able to open at the beginning of November.”
The Baker House homeless shelter on Hancock Street opened this month thanks to the support of Richmond County residents who opened their wallets and hearts.
It can support 30 men each night,
“We normally would open at the beginning of October, but there just wasn’t enough money to do it then,” Baker explained. “(Baker House Director Renee Rohleder) really went to bat for us looking for grants and talking to area churches and people in the community, and did a great job. We believe right now we have enough money to carry us through the winter.”
The churches continue to support the ministry. They rotate having groups come in and donate the food to cook for the evening meal, as well as prepare and serve it.
In June, the board that governs the shelter and Rockingham and Hamlet soup kitchens issued a press release warning it may have to close its doors this winter after being left out of a round of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding in March.
“It may not seem as important on a 90-degree day like this, but when Fall rolls around it’s going to be tough to tell people who don’t have anywhere to go that we won’t be able to open the shelter,” Baker said at the time.
Instead of having to tell people that, the shelter is now running at capacity and serving an expanding population of homeless men, while being able to hire a night supervisor for the shelter..
“We’ve got people coming now that we haven’t seen before,” Baker said. “And there are some that will get a job and move on, but there are always new ones to take their places.”
He said most of the shelter’s clients are familiar faces, but there are other emergency situations they are set up to handle.
“We just had a young fellow from out-of-town come and knock on our door and ask if he could have a place to stay,” Baker said. “Turns out, he was in town with a contractor, and had planned on the contractor extending his contract but he couldn’t, and he ended up in a crisis situation. He had a place to stay that night.”
A woman who was in the same situation in Richmond County wouldn’t have that option, however. New Horizons Director Crystal McLendon’s agency works with battered women, and offers shelter to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, along with their children.
She said if any shelter were opened for women in the county, it should include a strong component to help them provide for themselves.
“I think that every county or city should have options like that, but it’s important it has a component that helps them work towards self-sufficiency,” she said Wednesday.
The Anson-Richmond-Moore-Montgomery Regional Committee of the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness has been meeting over the past several months, working to hone the grant-writing skills of area non-profits to consolidate regional efforts whenever possible.
“They have been looking at some options (for sheltering women),” Baker explained. “The problem is, say there’s a woman who’s located in the northern end of Montgomery County, where do you put her? If she has children, how are they going to get to school ... It is a huge problem compared to providing shelter for the men, and I don’t know that I have all the answers.”
He said the agency has long wanted to expand to shelter women and children, but their funding situation has them hoping to hold onto the men’s shelter each winter.
“The other thing is, we’re only open during the winter,” he continued. “What are these men supposed to do during the summer? Sleep in the woods? In abandoned cars or houses?”
The ARMM Web site can be viewed at http://www.ncceh.org/bos/armm/.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.