When the temperature drops, Loudoun’s homeless turn to the Good Shepherd Alliance.
The nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the county’s homeless population opened its office doors to the county’s homeless population three years ago. They’re still open today.
Mark Gunderman, chairperson for the Good Shepherd Alliance, said the organization opened a makeshift warming shelter in its Leesburg office to accommodate the overflow from its five community shelters in Ashburn, Leesburg, Lucketts and South Riding.
When the sun goes down and Good Shepherd Alliance employees leave the office, someone is there to let homeless men and women keep warm for a couple of hours. Employees set up cots and blankets between office desks and fax machines, to house more than 100 people last year.
"Three years ago, we decided to do something more," Gunderman said.
The warming shelter opens and 8 p.m. and people are asked to leave when employees come in at 8 a.m.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD Alliance’s office is set up in a small home in Leesburg. Last year, the office-turned makeshift shelter kept 110 people warm, Gunderman said.
However, the small space is a breeding ground for germs.
"It’s not a healthy environment," Gunderman said, "and it’s not fair to our employees."
The Good Shepherd Alliance decided to close the warming facility for about a month.
WHEN LOUDOUN Continuum of Care, a group of local churches and organizations, like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, got wind of the closure, it decided to do something about it. Leesburg Community Church heads the warming shelter subcommittee.
Leesburg Community Church pastor, Randy Ashcraft, said his parishioners have been busy trying to find a solution to the housing problem in Loudoun County. The group meets every week to discuss housing options.
Committee member Jay Fry said the team has located a facility off of Harrison Street in Leesburg. The facility was given to the Loudoun Continuum of Care to be made into a warming center.
The good news is the organization found a facility, Fry said, but there are a few challenges.
The facility must first be approved by the Town of Leesburg as a homeless shelter. Fry will go before the Town Council in December.
"We’re ready. We just need the town’s approval," he said.
If the facility gets approved, Fry said they can open the shelter by January.
"We have enough backing from a number of organizations," he said.
In the meantime, the Good Shepherd Alliance decided to reopen the Warming Center two weeks ago.
"Right now, the county is looking at establishing a long-term warming facility," Gunderman said. "Since we have that in process, we thought we would keep it open a little longer. We can do it in the short term."
THE GOOD SHEPHERD ALLIANCE runs five homeless shelters in Ashburn, Leesburg, Lucketts and South Riding. It also runs a thrift store in Sterling.
Last week, the Good Shepherd Alliance partnered with the Town of Purcellville to convert an old home into a homeless shelter for pregnant women and new mothers.
"It will be the first of its kind," Gunderman said.
The Purcellville Transition House for Women is now in its construction phase.
The shelter will be funded by a Department of Housing and Community Services Development Block Grant administered by the Department of Family Services and will provide shelter, counseling and education to new and soon-to-be mothers.
The Good Shepherd Alliance is asking doctors, nurses and other medical staff to volunteer to work with the mothers before and after the delivery.
The organization also needs volunteers to help clean up the site while under construction, landscape and decorate the rooms once they are built. They are also looking for businesses to help with roofing, siding, kitchen cabinet and floor installation. They need electrical and plumbing fixtures, windows, doors, shutters, dry wall, tile, flooring, cabinets, paints, asphalt and concrete donations.
Call the Good Shepherd Alliance 703-433-2631 to volunteer.