WEST OCEAN CITY – Although the traditional season of giving is past, people can continue to give back to the Diakonia homeless shelter with the purchase of a fundraising CD called “Give Us Your Poor,” featuring homeless musical artists with national recording artists like Bruce Springsteen, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Michelle Shocked, Keb’ Mo’, and Bonnie Raitt.
“Sixty percent of the proceeds go directly to Diakonia,” said director Claudia Nagle. “We would like to sell all our CDs. We currently have 60 CDs left, and they’re on sale for $20 apiece. That would be a goal of around $1200.”
Every CD sale generates $12 for Diakonia.
“We’re about halfway there,” Nagle said.
The CD is the brainchild of McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies University of Massachusetts in Boston.
The CD sale earnings will enable the homeless shelter to provide services not covered by grants and other funding, like upgrades to computers guests need to write resumes and apply for jobs online.
“The funding, the grants are flat. This gives us some flexible funds we need to help our guests with the changes they need,” Nagle said. “We do more than three hots and a cot. We provide intensive case management to the folks who are here.”
In 2007, Diakonia provided 11,000 bed nights of service to over 300 people, an increase over 2006.
“People are staying longer,” Nagle said because affordable, safe housing is very difficulty to find. She added, “The unfortunate piece is we’re consistently busy.”
As recently as five years ago, the shelter saw demand go up in summer months, when housing is at the highest premium, and fall back somewhat in the offseason. Now, Diakonia shelters over 30 people at any given time.
“There are more people than ever this year,” said Darlene Onley of Worcester County GOLD, an organization that helps the poor and homeless with emergency necessities, from food to rent to prescriptions. “It doesn’t end at Christmas.”
After two days off for the holidays, Onley said she came back to the Worcester County GOLD office to find several requests for help on the answering machine.
The average Diakonia stay in 2007 was 39 days, Nagle said, but that length of time varies widely from one person to another. One guest may only need a bed for two days, while another may need one for a year. The shelter can house up to 45 men, women and children, depending on the family configuration, and it can be difficult for them to move on.
“We can’t find places they can afford to rent,” Nagle said.
“Rent is always a problem,” agreed Onley.
Nagle said current market conditions are starting to be noticed.
“We’re beginning to see the effect of the housing market falling down and people aren’t being able to find the volume of work,” Nagle said. “I can see some signs it is beginning to get more difficult.”
Onley said the need is very much still there in Worcester.
“Need definitely has been increasing,” Onley said of the requests for help from homeless and poor Worcester Countians. “It seems like we have a lot of steady customers. I think people really love to be on the Lower Eastern Shore and a lot of them have roots and don’t want to leave.”
Diakonia focuses on connecting guests to county and state services that can help them get back on their feet, from financial assistance to mental health treatment, to jobs and housing.
Staff try to get guests stable in the first week, making sure they have food and get sleep, finding them services and then making a plan to help them into their own housing. Guests, who are expected to save wages toward housing costs, can often find work in a few days in the summer, but take longer in the winter. In all seasons, guests tend to need to take on more than one minimum wage job to pay for housing.
Many guests must move out of their communities and away from their support systems just to find somewhere they can afford to live. Much of the small stock of affordable housing in Worcester County lies in the southern end, which makes getting to work difficult if not impossible for many. County buses do not run late at night and are really only useful to people working daytime positions, said Nagle.
Even those housing markets are changing and becoming less affordable, Nagle said.
“The cost of housing is increasing in this area, period,” she said.
Housing programs, like Section 8, often have a three- to four-year waiting list.
According to Nagle, few guests need to return to Diakonia once they move out of the shelter and are on their own. “It’s mostly new people,” she said.
Diakonia’s work would not be possible without community help, at the holiday season and all year, Nagle said.
“We appreciate their support,” she said. “They’ve made the Christmas holiday season incredibly wonderful. We’re very grateful for the support for our guests. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.”