WASHINGTON – Emergency shelters across the state are overflowing with homeless, forcing many people to be turned away as temperatures dip into the single digits in some parts of the state.
Both suburban and rural shelters reported capacity numbers since the cold weather began, with no end in sight to the steady line of needy adults and families.
“We have already turned away 13 people in 2003, and those were just women and children,” said Marsha Mazza, director of Wayfarer’s House, a women’s shelter in Elkton.
At the Rainbow Place in Rockville, director Marilyn Lehr said the cold- weather shelter has been full since it opened Nov. 1. The women-only center has turned away clients on a daily basis, she said.
Lehr said the shelter has seen a constant flow of clients is “because of the especially cold winter.” A local hospital recently called Rainbow Place in an effort to find day shelter for a homeless woman with frostbite, Lehr said, but the nights-only shelter could not help.
Nearby shelters are under similar pressure and “have had people sleeping on the floors,” Lehr said.
Bitter cold was expected to continue across the state for several days, after hitting single digits Friday night, said National Weather Service forecaster Howard Silverman.
“Lows (Friday night) are going to range from single digits in the western part of the state to around 10 degrees for the cities of Washington and Baltimore and near the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.
The Warm Nights Shelter program run by the Community Ministry of Prince George’s County has been especially busy since the cold weather hit, said the Rev. Marian Wood.
“It’s been very full and overflowing. This week has turned cold and the calls are coming,” said Wood, the interim director of the ministry.
But it’s not just the cold that is turning people out in record numbers. Many shelter staff blame the sluggish economy for the increase in business.
At the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis, Director April Tongue said her center is “always turning people away.” The current winter season is made even more difficult by the slow economy coupled with the cold weather, she said. The shelter has been forced to turn away about 40 to 50 people since Jan. 1, Tongue said.
Many of the region’s emergency centers met capacity before the cold snap because they are taking in large families with children.
Janet Cole, a shelter case manager at the Community Action Council in Hagerstown, said she “has seen multigenerational families” come through. Families with grandmothers, mothers, and children — all homeless — have requested space at the center in recent months.
“Most of the families are recently homeless,” Cole said.
At Helping Hands emergency shelter in Rockville, Program Manager Tammy Holland said she sees a constant stream of families.
“As soon as we are blessed to get one family out, (the county) sends us another one. There is always a waiting list,” she said.
Frigid temperatures and the stagnant economy are also causing a spike in service needs on the Eastern Shore, shelter directors said. Daniel Bacon, director of the Christian Shelter in Salisbury, said his 30-person center is at capacity.
“We’ve turned away more than a few” since the cold weather began, he said. But the economy, he believes, is also to blame for the packed house.