Shelter Serves 68 Homeless During Winter
Program Gears Up For Another Year
719&chid=2> Jeff Mellott
HARRISONBURG - A 15-week program that provided shelter to the homeless
through a network of community churches provided 68 people with a place to
go during the winter months, according to the organization that provided the
Making the Harrisonburg And Rockingham Thermal Shelter program possible were
672 people who volunteered 4,710 hours, according to statistics provided by
Brooke Rodgers, executive director of HARTS.
While the stated goal of the program was to provide a shelter for the
homeless, HARTS' president, the Rev. Jeff Butcher, said recently that the
effort also provided a means for members of the area's faith community to
strengthen their bonds with each other and their individual faith.
HARTS, which modeled the homeless shelter programs in other communities,
including Charlottesville, created a network of 13 shelters and six partner
churches to provide the service to the homeless.
The churches offered a roof and volunteers from mid-December through the end
of March. The effort created 105 consecutive nights where the homeless could
find dinner and breakfast, according to HARTS' report.
"It went amazingly well," Butcher said. "It was definitely an act of faith.
We could have used another year to plan. But it all worked out. It all came
Meeting last summer, members of the community's interfaith council
considered what they could do to meet the needs of the homeless.
The preference was and remains for a single central shelter, said Ann Held,
who is HARTS' vice president.
Looking for alternatives, community leaders created a plan for a network of
churches that would each host the homeless for one week during the winter.
HARTS secured a $15,000 grant from the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and
Housing Authority and $30,000 from City Council.
The $45,000 was about half of what HARTS officials said at the time was
necessary for the shelter program.
By the time the program ended, HARTS collected another $10,000 in donations
and $153,862 from in-kind contributions. The United Way also provided $2,819
to supplement federal, state and local grants.
The contributions brought the program's budget to more than $208,000,
according to HARTS Executive Director Brooke Rodgers.
HARTS' board of directors is expected to meet next week and elect new
officers and prepare for next winter.
The program, according to Held, helped humanize the homeless issue.
"These are not faceless people," Held said. "They are individuals who are
down on their luck and needed, not a handout, but a compassionate hand to
lift them up."
Harrisonburg and Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Michael Wong
said the program's results opened his eyes to the number of working poor who
"That surprised me," he said.
Wong said the authority's investment in HARTS is part of the agency's effort
to provide housing.
"We tried not to make it a government program," he said. "It was a community
Wong and others said the homeless were not the only ones affected by the
Held noted that the Islamic Association of Harrisonburg stepped in to
provide a shelter during the Christian holy periods of Christmas and Easter.
Butcher said it was "joyous" to see everyone work together and the impact
the program had on the volunteers.
"People individually have gained confidence that they can speak with and
engage with people that are homeless," Butcher said. "They were actually
living out their faith."
Contact Jeff Mellott at 574-6290 or <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
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