Already full, McKenna House in Concord turns people away
Data recently provided from Concord’s homeless shelter community reveals a mixed bag of news.
On the one hand, the Salvation Army’s McKenna House, a year-round shelter, reports that it turned away 210 people seeking a place to sleep last month, up 76 from November of last year.
But over at the South and First Congregational churches, winter-only shelters that accept the homeless on a daily first-come, first-serve basis, about 155 volunteers have been mobilized for the upcoming chill, enough to cover all the bases.
The First Church opens Friday, the South Church on Dec. 21.
“It’s amazing, and I’m absolutely happy with the number of people we have,” said Bill Watson, director at the South Church. “We are all set with volunteers.”
None of the three facilities have enough winter items as of yet. The McKenna House, with its 26 beds filled practically all the time, needs a large list of clothing and footwear: winter coats, new socks, new boxer shorts, sweatpants, sweatshirts, hats, gloves and, most of all, men’s boots, sizes 10 to 12.
In fact, the situation at McKenna is as bad as it’s been in recent memory.
“We’re pretty desperate for new clothing,” said Lorrie Dale, director at McKenna. “We’ve had a huge amount of people who we served this year that would come in with just the clothes on their backs. Every year at Christmas I get a ton, but I’m down to the lowest I have ever been.”
As of last week, the McKenna House had served 219 different people this year. The facility has a waiting list, and the wait is never long.
“People are always calling, and we mark them down,” Dale said. “We have some turnover, but I think what happens literally is that within an hour of someone exiting our program, we are full again.
“We’re seeing a lot more younger people under the age of 25,” Dale continued. “And I think we’re also seeing more veterans.”
More space may be coming, too, after an energy audit revealed that the McKenna House kept heat in like Swiss cheese.
“We failed miserably on it as far as having insulation in the walls and our windows,” Dale said. “Even in the spring, it was so windy that one of our windows blew out.”
The result was a county grant of $220,000 and the current construction project that, when finished, will turn a dirt cellar, beneath the men’s dormitory, into a new function room.
“We have a relapse prevention program, a codependency program and a music therapy program that we can’t hold at our facility,” Dale said. “We’ve always had to hold them at the other Salvation Army, not here in our building, but we will have a usable space where we can all get together and meet.”
Along with the new meeting room, the McKenna House is also in the midst of receiving new siding, new insulation and new windows.
Over at the winter-only shelters, Watson says he need socks, gloves and knapsacks. He works for the Department of Transportation, which is currently staging a drive to collect those items.
“When people call me up and ask if they can donate financially or if there are supplies that we need,” Watson said, “those are the three things at both locations that we’re really in need of.”
Backpacks are needed, Watson said, because “that’s how people carry their lives around. And before Christmas comes around, we work with a realtor and businesses and they make up gift bags for all the guests that will be in the shelters on Christmas. We want to make sure those gift bags are not some plastic Walmart bag or canvas shopping bag. We want something decent to put all those packages in.”
Watson added that he’s always looking for disposable items and toiletries, no matter the time of year, to restock for the future.
And he said if early-winter information is any indication, the homeless problem in the vicinity will grow over last year.
“We don’t have a great way of knowing that,” Watson said. “We learn a little bit by what’s happening over at the McKenna House and numbers we see at the Friendly Kitchen and the number of people who come into the Resource Center.
“I just don’t know. My hunch, though, is it’s going to be a higher number this time.”