First Baptist rejoins consortium to help Laurel's homeless
After relocation, church eager to contribute to regional effort
Raphael Talisman/ The Gazette
After taking a two-year hiatus while moving to a new location, First Baptist Church of Laurel officials are excited about once again participating in a program to help the homeless.
First Baptist had been active in Winter Haven, a 20-congregation effort that has provided shelters for homeless men and women since it began in 1991. Under the program, churches in Laurel and the surrounding area – from Columbia to Burtonsville – take turns housing anywhere from 30 homeless men and 15 homeless women overnight for one week until the beginning of March. Larger churches host the men while smaller churches hold the women. Sometimes the men and women are hosted the same week. First Baptist began its week Monday.
Tommy Rowe, associate pastor at First Baptist, said when the church was on Fifth Street, a small house on the property was used for the program.
"There wasn't a lot of room to do the program as well as we liked," he said.
The church began preparing for its relocation to its new location at 15000 First Baptist Lane in 2006 and completed the move last winter, Rowe said.
Rowe said about 40 to 50 church members are going to be involved this week to help with cooking, providing provisions and spending the night with the homeless.
Winter Haven founder Jenny Smith said she was thrilled to have First Baptist back in the program.
"There have been challenges the last few years with the number of people but their new building will be big enough," she said.
A 2006 study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that 51 percent of the homeless population is single men, 30 percent is families with children, 17 percent is single women and 2 percent is unaccompanied youth.
Winter Haven officials are anticipating an increase in the number of homeless people needing help this year.
"We're looking to hold our numbers down even though the demand will be up," she said.
Fifteen homeless men and two homeless women came to the church Monday night and were served a meatloaf dinner before spending the night at the facility.
"the interesting thing is these guys become a family.
"Everything went off without any problems. It went perfectly," said Donny Phillips, director of emergency and homeless services for Laurel Advocacy Referral Services, which helps homeless men and women find shelters in the Laurel area. LARS screens people for the Winter Haven program.
Homeless men and women not located in Laurel can participate in the county's Warm Nights program, similar to Winter Haven but exclusively in Prince George's County. Phillips said LARS helps direct them to that program through the county's Homeless Hotline.
The county also has three year-round shelters, one in Adelphi and two in Capitol Heights. Each serves a different population – female and children, or male.
Smith said what differentiates Winter Haven from other programs in the county is that it is staffed 100 percent by volunteers.
"It's all from the goodness of people's hearts that we have managed to keep it going for this long," she said. "The volunteer board gives us some continuity and helps us because people make connections."
Phillips said each congregation is a part of a listserv, an electronic mailing list.
"Each morning we get the number count, any issues, and whether they can help anyone else," he said. "There's lots of communications, and everyone's on the same page. It's really good to see the community as a whole help solve the problem and provide shelter and food."