St. Mary's to Tally Number of Homeless - Southern Maryland Headline News

St. Mary's to Tally Number of Homeless

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Jan. 29, 2009)—The director of the Three Oaks homeless shelter in Lexington Park says county agencies responsible for dealing with the homeless population in St. Mary's County will do a one-day count Jan. 29 to determine their number.

Lanny Lancaster told The County that he expects the numbers to rise.

"It's going up a little bit each year," Lancaster said, which stands at about 1,280 for 2008. "I wish it wasn't."

Lancaster said he expected a 10 to 15 percent increase in the number of homeless living in the county for this year's count. "The demands on the system have increased so much," Lancaster said as evidence to back up his assertions.

That includes clients coming in for food and medical assistance, Lancaster said, especially for prescription medications.

At the Three Oaks shelter, Lancaster said groups from families to single women to single women with children as well as single men seeking help, has increased.

Many single men and women have lost their jobs on construction sites and in the food-service and house-keeping industries, Lancaster said.

"They just can't find a job," he said.

The problem, Lancaster said, is closely connected to the economic downturn, but also a continuing influx of well paying jobs that drive up housing costs.

"For every new group with nice jobs and high-level employment, the poor who didn't think they were poor, their costs of living goes up," Lancaster said.

"Then the working poor become homeless."

Lancaster said the homeless count would take place throughout the tri-county area. It will also take them out into the woods here locally, he said.

Small homeless camps dot the woods in and around the Lexington Park area, Lancaster said, with some continuing to brave the cold winter.

Vernon Freelnd, 41, a client at Three Oaks had been sleeping out in the woods for months before he got a spot at the shelter.

Freelnd took The County Times to several different locations in the community where the homeless stay.

They often use tents handed out for free by local churches. They wrap tents in plastic to keep the bone chilling cold out.

"It's rough if you ain't got money… basically you're stuck," Freelnd said of being without home or work. He said he'd been homeless since about 2003 mostly because of drug use.

Rueben Berry, now the facilities superintendent at Three Oaks, was also once a client. He started his slide into homelessness in the early 1990s when he started using drugs regularly while working as an inventory specialist. He stayed in the bathroom and basement of his job and used rent money for drugs, he said.

By 2002 he had lost his job and he returned to his birthplace of Lexington Park to seek help at Three Oaks.

It helped turn his life around, he said.

"As long as I've been doing the right things good things have been happening," Berry, 52, said.

Freelnd, whose tent in Lexington Park has been taken over by another homeless person since he moved out, is still waiting for help getting a job.

"Everything's in a freeze right now," Freelnd said. "But I'm glad to be out of the cold.

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