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Culpeper ministry helping homeless in Orange

BY ROBIN KNEPPER

 Starting tonight,  homeless people in Orange County who are looking for  a place to stay overnight will be able to benefit from Culpeper’s Shelter Ministry program.

 Volunteers from Orange churches will pick them up  at 4:30 p.m. at the parking lot of the Sedwick Building on Madison Road in downtown Orange and  drive them to a shelter in Culpeper. They will be returned to Orange the next morning.

 Accommodations, dinner and breakfast will be provided by Culpeper congregations that take weeklong turns staffing the overnight shelter program at their churches. 

 The completely volunteer winter shelter program is in its third year and operates under the guidance of the Rev. Michael Gray of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and Jack Garber, executive director of the Piedmont United Way. Shelter is provided seven nights a week, Garber said.

 “We’ll have only three or four people if the weather is mild,” he said.  “We can take a maximum of 28 people, and we never turn anyone away.  But we do not allow drunks, weapons, drugs, alcohol or pets.”

  It’s a program that Pastor Rick Clore at Orange Baptist Church would like to see considered in Orange, where the homeless shelter recently closed.  In the meanwhile, he’s spreading the word to area ministers and looking for help.

 “Culpeper is being very generous to us,” he said, “and we want to share the cost.  In the future we may have to open our churches.”

The plan is for volunteers from Orange churches to provide the transportation back and forth to Culpeper every day. But until the program gets under way, no one knows how many people will take advantage of it.

 “We’re doing this on the fly,” Clore said.  “We don’t think there are a large number of people, but we really don’t know.  We’ve printed up posters and put them up around town to let people know about the program.”

 The 43-bed Orange County homeless shelter in the town of Orange closed its doors at the end of October, the victim of steadily decreasing state and federal funding.  It is not expected to reopen under its previous configuration, but no plans have been made about use of the county-owned building.

A forum on homelessness was held in Culpeper last week by the Rappahannock–Rapidan Planning District Commission, which serves Orange, Culpeper, Madison, Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.

 Kathy Robertson, associate director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, told those in attendance that  both state and federal money will now be awarded to programs that put homeless people into homes rather than housing them temporarily in shelters.

 “People are being sheltered,” she told the group, “but they are not being housed.  They are not moving into permanent housing.”

 Transitional housing, rapid re-housing and subsidized housing are the programs that will get the majority of state and federal money in the future, she said. 

 Grant money will be awarded through a competitive process in which rural communities without available housing infrastructure will find it hard, if not impossible, to compete, according to numerous local speakers at the  forum.

 The only way to become competitive, they said, is to collaborate with each other to develop area and regional solutions  that will satisfy the grantors.

 “The more we learn about each other, the more opportunities we can see for collaborative effort,” said  Bob Lingo, director of the Orange County Department of Social Services. 

 “There’s a great need, and we know not everyone’s going to be served,” he added.  “But we cannot do nothing. I urge you to find out what your partners are doing.”

 According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there was a 2 percent drop in the national homeless population in the annual point-in-time survey done in localities in January of every year.

 That was consistent with area homeless counts, with one exception, according to planning district Program Manager Cathy Zielinski. 

 “The count was up significantly for the unsheltered homeless in our area,” she said.

Robin Knepper:  540/972-5701

rknepper@earthlink.net

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