The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


November 26, 2010

Gate House might close

Shelter runs out of cash

DANVILLE — A nonprofit shelter for the homeless that has helped nearly 1,600 people during the past 13 years may close Jan. 1 because of lack of money.

"We would like to find a way to stay open through February or March," said Glenn Simington, a member of the board that runs The Gate House Shelter on the Danville State Hospital grounds in Mahoning Township.

"We are asking the communities in both Montour and Columbia counties to help us defray expenses," he said.

"Except for The Women's Center, there are no other shelters in our counties," said the Rev. Robert Andrews, a 12-year board member.

It costs between $8,000 and $9,000 a month to keep the shelter open. Those expenses include oil heat, electricity and the staff, which has already had their hours cut from full-time to part-time.

Currently, 12 people, including one family, live at Gate House. The facility has a capacity of 41. Since it opened its doors in 1997, the shelter has housed 1,246 people and 334 children for a total of 59,263 nights spent there by clients, according to Cheryl Hornberger, shelter director for 12 years.

Winter homeless

By asking for help from the community and organizations, Simington, a board member for 12 years, said they hope to find a way to stay open during the winter.

"We're entering the prime season for people to be homeless," he said.

Thirty percent of the people staying at the shelter are employed, with 10 percent looking for work.

"We have a veteran who is in pretty rough shape awaiting subsidized housing or disability," said Hornberger.

Since 2009 when the shelter had to close for a few days due to lack of a grant that was expected, the board has consistently looked at ways to reduce costs, Simington said.

The seven-person staff, including Hornberger, has gone to working part-time and to volunteering. Some insurance coverage requires the shelter to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We want the community to know the board and the staff have been trying to do everything possible to reduce costs," Simington said.

The shelter operates on an annual budget of about $90,000.

They are asking that contributions be sent to The Gate House at Box 446, Danville, PA, 17821.

Enough food for residents isn't usually a problem with people dropping off donations as well as toiletry items, he said.

Shelter grant halved

An emergency shelter grant, which the shelter depends on, was received in November 2009 but amounted to half of what was requested. They got $50,000 that had to be spread over two years, Hornberger said. The grant is federal money passed down to the state.

In warmer months when they spend less on energy, Hornberger said they are able to "get more months with the funds we have."

People staying at the shelter are referred by social service agencies, police or churches. There is an intake process. Residents have to agree to the house rules, agree to do chores and, if accepted, start looking for a job within two weeks, Simington said. Preference for admission is given to residents of Montour and Columbia counties.

"From the beginning we established this. This is not a place where people come for three meals a day and sit on the couch and watch TV all day," Simington said.

"This is a transitional situation," Andrews said. "This is a way station."

Board members who run the shelter are directors of the Transitional Housing and Care Center of Columbia and Montour counties.

Recent residents

In the past 18 months, women staying there have given birth to five babies. So far this year, 27 children and 50 adults have lived at the shelter.

Shelter nights this year so far calculate to 1,376 by Montour County residents and to 2,263 nights by Columbia County residents.

"We are grateful to the aid and support the commissioners in the counties have given to sign off for grants that have come through," Simington said. The board is also appreciative of past support from community organizations and churches.

While the Gate House board plans to apply for grants and seek other funding sources, Andrews said that can't happen in six weeks since it takes time to apply for grants.

With the board pursuing grants from foundations and other revenue sources, Simington said these "are extremely competitive and there are less dollars to go around given the economic situation."

The board has an active fundraising committee. The most recent big fundraiser was a golf tournament sponsored by a church for the shelter.

"That kept us open for a month," Simington said.

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