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Published: Monday, 3/21/2005

Wauseon shelter planned by winter

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - Two advocates for the poor speaking at a community leadership program last year touched the hearts of two women who now are making plans for Wauseon's first homeless shelter.

Debbie Nelson, director of the Wauseon Chamber of Commerce, and Robin Smitley, a coordinator with Job 1 USA temporary staffing firm, committed in that seminar to breaking the cycle of concerned people doing little more than talking about homelessness in this Fulton County community.

"We talk and we talk and we talk about it, but we never really do something," Mrs. Nelson said.

They hope by next winter to have a house - to be called the House Of Mentoring Enterprise - near downtown Wauseon with a live-in employee to help resident families learn sound financial management.

"This is not just a roof over their head," Mrs. Nelson said. "Let's get a job. Let's figure out what we need to do so this doesn't happen to you again."

Their plans are modeled after Archbold's Friendship House, which opened in 2002, and is the only homeless shelter in Fulton County. Cecily Rohrs, who had the inspiration for Friendship House, was one of the speakers at the leadership program Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Smitley attended.

The House of Mentoring's four-member board - Mrs. Nelson is president and Mrs. Smitley is vice president - was deemed a charitable organization for tax purposes last month and has donors willing to acquire a house for it. The board wants a place that could accommodate up to three families at a time.

It anticipates spending $2,000 a month for an employee's salary, utilities, and food. Mrs. Nelson said the board is discussing an annual fund-raiser for such operating expenses.

The shelter is to serve only people who have been living in the Wauseon school district.

"Our purpose is to help the individuals in our community," Mrs. Nelson said.

How many people might use the shelter is only a guess.

The Archbold house has been empty only two days in the last 14 months, Mrs. Rohrs said, adding that a mother and her five children were preparing to move in this week.

Better projections might be available next winter.

The Northwest Ohio Housing Coalition, an association of social service agencies, plans to count the number of homeless people in Fulton, Henry, Williams, Defiance, and Paulding counties on one day in June and another day in January.

The association hopes to enlist college students and church members to help it check hundreds of locations where homeless people might be staying, such as parks, campgrounds, and all-night coffee shops.

It is thought to be the first attempt to count the number of homeless people in the five-county area, said Angie Franklin, community service director with the Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission.

Organizers hope a bigger attempt to count the number of homeless people in the area will help them gain government grants and other funds.

Mrs. Rohrs added that it should also draw attention to the plight of families who feel like they have hit bottom.

"I love the awareness," she said.

If the House of Mentoring opens next winter it would be the fourth homeless shelter in the five-county area west of Toledo, Ms. Franklin said.

Besides Archbold's Friendship House, there is a 20-bed shelter in Defiance called the PATH Center - which stands for Partnership Assistance to The Homeless - and The Sanctuary operated by Grace Community Church in Bryan. A shelter for battered women and their children that was planned for Fulton County about five years ago never opened.

There are also many kind-hearted people who take friends and relatives into their own homes, Mrs. Nelson said, adding that she did not think a shelter in Wauseon would impact such personal assistance. Many of the people expected to use the shelter grew up elsewhere and don't have family or longtime friends in the county. Others have burned all their bridges with relatives, she said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at: jschmucker@theblade.com or 419-337-7780.



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