Barbara D’Annibale recalled the story of why one homeless man wouldn’t go to a shelter, even though it was really cold outside. The man, who had some mental health problems, said he was afraid to catch something from the other homeless who were addicted to crack or cocaine.
"So he stayed away from the shelter, to protect himself," said D’Annibale, an administrator with the Lamb Center on Fairfax Circle. "Their reality is often very different from ours."
Helping the area’s homeless find shelter and relief is one of the goals of the Lamb Center, a faith-based day center providing services to homeless and low-income people. Yet as winter progresses and temperatures chill, volunteers at the Lamb Center encouraging the homeless to find shelter sometimes encounter difficulties. For some, the issue is mental health. For others, it’s personal safety or the desire to protect one’s only assets. While rain may bring the homeless to the Lamb Center and to area showers, snow and ice have actually made the homeless, who live in the area’s woods, underpasses and doorways, stay put.
"I think because people have found a safe, relatively dry place, they just hunker down and just wait until the worst passes," said Lamb Center director Steve Sclossberg.
Although snow make the homeless stay put, chilly temperatures sometimes bring men and women to participate in the Lamb Center’s activities, which include Bible study, laundry, a meal and shower, or a physical.
"We’ve seen more people willing to come in, which is good," D’Annibale said.
Yet when it gets too cold, the Lamb Center tries to encourage people to find a warm place to spend the night.
"This is life or death sometimes," said volunteer coordinator Gary Pass.
While the winter season has brought in annual donations from area citizens and organizations, volunteers at the Lamb Center say they welcome donations and volunteers year-round. One service, emergency financial assistance, helps local families pay for a month’s rent or utilities, which greatly helps families struggling with the sudden loss of a job.
"There’s a big need out there," D’Annibale said.
Volunteers are also welcome to serve the Lamb Center population. Currently, the Lamb Center has about 60 volunteers, with an average of 60 men and women coming in daily to use the Lamb Center’s services. Eight to 11 percent of those coming in monthly are new, and referred by social workers, the county or local churches.
"I don’t know who I would be if I weren’t here," said Pass, adding that since he started volunteering four years ago, he’s a different person.
D’Annibale agreed. "Actually, our lives aren’t too different, when you get down to it," she said. "Everyone wants to be happy, everyone wants to be loved."
For more information about the Lamb Center, contact 703-691-3178, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.