Home of Possibilities

Emergency Family Shelter Opening After Years of Dreaming and Planning

By Gina Gallucci-White | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 12.07.21 – Lifestyles

In 2019, officials with The Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs began looking at the White-Hayward farmhouse on Hayward Road as potentially fulfilling their years-long dream of having a permanent emergency family shelter.

The building, last owned by the City of Frederick, had not been occupied in more than a decade. Mold and asbestos were found throughout the property, which meant the entire interior would need to be gutted. Even a tree was found growing in one of the rooms.

When the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, co-chair of the capital campaign to raise funds for the shelter, saw the interior and learned of the extensive remodeling the building would need, she initially thought the best option would be to knock the house down and start over. But she changed her mind.

“The more I thought about it, this house has good bones,” says Kershner Daniel, whose congregation, Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ, is one of multiple community faith partners providing shelter for families. “There is possibility here. Just like our families. The families just need some extra support. They have the resources within them. They just need some support to make that happen.”

Neil Donnelly, the nonprofit’s director of Emergency Family Shelter, adds “What looked insurmountable we’ve been able to do. It is a good testament for the folks in the house that will come through.”

Kershner Daniel adds “We didn’t give up on the house. We don’t give up on them.”

The home is believed to date back to 1885; an inset marble date stone can still be found on an exterior corner. The 68 acres it sits on was once owned by John White who left the farmstead to his two surviving siblings, William White and Sarah Alice White, who never married.

Sarah White was a member of the Frederick Presbyterian Church, one of the Religious Coalition’s present-day faith partners. She was a strong supporter of the church and donated to its missions through her estate. Meanwhile, in 1909 the land was bought by Thomas B. Hayward, who called the property Brocton Orchards, which produced a variety of fruit, including apples that were sold all along the East Coast and even in Europe.

Frederick County Public Schools purchased the site in 1958 and used it for offices. In 2013, the City of Frederick bought the 8,300-square-foot home from the county. Three years later, the home was sold again to a nonprofit religious organization that had dreams of a cultural and spiritual center that were never realized. Finally, the city sold the property to The Religious Coalition for $1 in 2019.

STABLE LOCATION

The new shelter will provide one stable location for families to stay while they work toward securing permanent housing and other goals. Currently, the Religious Coalition has a scattered-site approach. Families stay at the nonprofit’s resource center, a single-family home with no bedrooms and a maximum capacity of 15, during the day and then move to one of the partner congregations at night to sleep. At 6 a.m., the families were awakened and taken back to the resource center.

Since 2014, the nonprofit has offered a safe haven for more than 150 families seeking temporary shelter. Last year, it housed 20 families (66 individuals) with about 60 percent of those under the age of 18. Families stay with the program for 90 days but can be granted extensions to meet their goals.

Nick Brown, the Religious Coalition’s executive director, notes the hope with the new house “is that we are just beyond the need so that if there is a family that pops up, we can move them in quickly and hopefully transition them as rapidly. The goal of the house is to not just have folks stop here but to stabilize and then move forward.”

He notes the new building will provide about three times the current capacity with the ability to serve about 50 individuals. Lancaster Craftsmen Builders began remodeling the home early this year, with the new facility scheduled to be occupied by families sometime between February and April, although supply chain issues with materials might push the date back.

The Religious Coalition is in the process of raising $3.5 million to pay for the purchase and revitalization of the property, as well as establishing an endowment fund to support programs and building upkeep. Some funding has come from government grants.

Meg Kula, the nonprofit’s director of philanthropy, notes staff have been reaching out to past, current and potential donors to tell them about the project. Tours of the home are being offered during construction so the organization can share its vision. “I think COVID has shed some light to this issue [of homelessness] and made people more aware,” Kula says.

On a recent early morning, members of the staff walk through the building to see the progress. A kitchenette will offer parents or guardians the option of cooking meals for their children. A kids’ playroom will be beside an office where parents will speak with a case manager. The home will host 10 bedroom suites—two able to accommodate those with disabilities. Each room offers a personal bathroom with shower and toilet.

Some of the main issues families in need are facing include lack of afford-able housing in the area, earning a living income, limited transportation, trauma, mental health challenges and lack of a network to turn to in times of crisis. “The toughest thing I have to ask when I do an intake is I say, ‘Who can I put down as an emergency contact?’ [Clients ask,] ‘Can I put you down?’ They just don’t have the support that we take for granted,” Donnelly says. “I think those are real challenges.”

To be a part of the program, families must be Frederick County residents and pass a safety screening including a background check. If an individual has a criminal record that includes weapons or assault charges, they will not be allowed to participate.

In the coming weeks and months, the primer on the walls will be replaced with paint. Cabinets will be hung in the kitchenette. Toilets will be installed. Electricity will once again hum throughout the house. Appliances including a washer, dryer, oven and refrigerator will be brought in. The flooring will be put down while the new parking lot will be paved. “There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel,” Donnelly says.

While ripping out carpet in the living room, the construction crew found a compass rose in marble. No one knows how long it has been there. The marble could not be put back into the house because it cracked during removal, so the compass was placed in the outdoor walkway by the front door—a metaphor for the organization’s mission. “We are trying to lead them in the right direction,” Kula says.