Hoping to expand its outreach efforts, the Christian Community Presbyterian Church of Bowie is seeking partners to create a multifamily shelter.
“If you’ve just fallen into homelessness, chances are you can get out of it quickly [with immediate help],” said Deborah Sell, a member of the church’s mission council.
There are about 25 homeless people in or around Bowie, many of whom camp in forested areas, said Jesse Buggs, director of Bowie’s grant office, who also coordinates city services for the homeless. There are about 641 homeless people in Prince George’s County, according to a May study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
The church, located at 3120 Belair Drive, was founded in 1961 and has offered long-term housing since the late 1960s to homeless families by making space available on church grounds or at one time renting a home in the community for a family. Sell said she did not know how many families received shelter from the church.
To make the shelter, the church is hoping to create a nonprofit agency, which would be legally responsible for a shelter. That process may take until this summer or next year as local volunteers work out the leadership and financing, Sell said. A four-bedroom Cape Cod style home, one where the bedrooms are on the first floor for easy access for the physically impaired would be the ideal choice for the shelter, Sell said. The cost of renting a shelter would vary based on the property, but CCPC already has $6,000 saved in a shelter fund and is aiming to have $24,000 before opening a shelter, Sell said.
“It’s a good use of space. Instead of having an office we use one day a week, why not use it as something to help out the community?” said the Rev. James Brassard. “It’s become something we’re proud of.”
The church has also been offering aid by either renting space or providing money to a renter since the 1960s, Sell said. The outreach efforts are funded by offerings and donations, she said.
County and nonprofit agencies focused on aiding the homeless say the struggling economy makes community efforts for the homeless even more important.
“There is not going to be lots of government money for these types of programs,” said Timothy Jansen, executive director of Community Crisis Services Inc., a Hyattsville-based nonprofit that coordinates aid for the homeless through a contract with the county government. “The faith-based community wants to jump in and be involved and be a player.”
Across the county, there are more than 30 churches that provide shelter to a homeless person or family, Jansen said.
“Even in the most affluent communities, there are people suffering from homelessness,” he said. “The average rental [in the county] is about $900 and change for a two-bedroom. That’s working a lot of minimum wage hours to afford that.”
Bowie officials have been working on a report that examines what services the city could offer to aid the homeless. Ideas such as purchasing a home and turning it into a shelter as well as working with other agencies to start a shelter are all on the table, Buggs said.
The county government maintains three homeless shelters as well as a shelter for the victims of domestic violence, said Lavette Sims, spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Social Services. In Fiscal 2013, the county provided emergency shelter to 1,045 homeless people, Sims said.
“[Churches are] extremely important,” she said. “They’re an integral and vital role in ensuring we have the resources we need to provide support to homeless families.”
Anyone interested in supporting CCPC’s efforts to develop a shelter can donate to the CCPC shelter’s fund account at PNC bank.