A 45- to 90-day program aims to help Calvert County’s homeless population get their “sea legs,” as it were.
The Project ECHO Shelter has been going since 1993, and executive director Lori Hony is captain of the ship.
“We help build bridges back with family members,” she said, noting that an expensive housing market leaves some “up the creek without a paddle.” The goal is to help the homeless find permanent or semi-permanent housing. Some residents of the shelter are able to connect with other residents and team up to share rent once their time at Project ECHO is done.
It’s not easy.
“Homelessness is increasing,” Hony said. “It’s not going away.”
The shelter, which was built in 2009 at 484 Main St. and replaced the original one at 300 Main St., features a women’s floor and men’s floor. The women’s floor has eight double occupancy rooms and two family suites. The men’s floor has 10 double-occupancy rooms.
The Calvert County Housing Authority owns the land and the building.
Some come to the shelter because of foreclosures or after being kicked out of a home because they didn’t want to follow “family rules,” Hony said.
About two-thirds of the area’s homeless deal with drug addiction and/or a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, she said, noting that it’s often a dual diagnosis.
Although she loves her job, Hony, who started as shelter manager in 1993 and was named executive director last year, gets sad sometimes. “I go to funerals all the time,” she said, pointing out a wall on the shelter’s first floor that is covered with photos of those who overdosed on drugs and died.
But helping the homeless is Hony’s way of giving back. The Manito, Ill., native said she responded to an ad for volunteers.
“I’ve walked in some of their shoes,” she said. “This is my calling.”
Hony is one of five employees. The others are thrift store manager/developmental director Teressa Beavers, and Chris Ward, Dave Whitaker and Bonnie Mauer, who each watch the shelter. Hony credits them and the late Tom Morgan, her first boss at the shelter and one of its founders, for inspiring her.
“I’m a mother and a warden,” she said. “I’m tough, but I’m compassionate. Faith in God keeps me going.”
“This house would not be want it is without her,” said Carole Haas, a board member and one of the some 40 volunteers who help at the shelter.
Project Safe Nights, which runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. through March 29 at 18 area churches, grew out of the Project ECHO shelter. Others include one in Chesapeake Ranch Estates, the Calverton Morgan House for women in Prince Frederick, the Long Beach-Oxford sober living house, and the All Saints-Oxford House in Sunderland. Tenants pay rent and help as needed. The shelter also helps homeless people who are not residents, providing a basement shower/restroom.
To help, call 410-535-0044 or go to www.projectecho.net.