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Helping Hands

by on February 20, 2014 9:02 AM

STATE COLLEGE — For the homeless living in Centre County, finding shelter at night hasn't been a problem.

During the day? Now that's a different story.

Ginny Poorman recognized the need and started Hearts for the Homeless, a new daytime homeless shelter located in downtown State College.

“There's such a huge need in the State College area,” said Poorman, who has the titles founder and director. “There's nowhere to go during the day. It's pretty bad, especially with the type of winter we've had. There are people with frostbite damage on their face … it's just a terrible time to be stuck outside.”

Hearts for the Homeless is located at 100 Fraser St., or as Poorman put it, “we're basically in the basement of Dunkin' Donuts.”

The facility is open every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but that will change as more volunteers get involved, Poorman said.

Hearts for the Homeless has been open a little over a week now. Poorman said that the response from the community has been wonderful.

“We kind of did what I'd call a 'soft launch' for our first week to see how everything went before we did a big open house. We're pretty excited for everyone to see what's going on down there,” Poorman said.

During the first week, Poorman said that many homeless took advantage of the space. Some stopped to warm up, others for a hot cup of coffee.

Georgia, a 49-year-old woman originally from the Lock Haven area, is homeless. She called Hearts for the Homeless “a blessing.”

“I love it,” Georgia said with a smile. “They've helped me with my laundry, there are hot meals, I can take a nap, they bought me boots that I needed. They just go the extra mile. They're just wonderful people.”

Hearts for the Homeless provides people like Georgia with a place to stay during the afternoon hours. She takes advantage of the Out of the Cold program, which gives her a place to stay at night.

Georgia has been homeless and living in Centre County since August. She said the area desperately needed a facility like Hearts for the Homeless.

“It really does. You have a lot of young people in town who are living on the streets. Some people think it's a joke, but it's not. It's very serious,” Georgia said.

Between Hearts for the Homeless and Out of the Cold, Georgia has been able to find warm places to stay during the winter months.

“The churches and their parishoners have been wonderful … they take care of us. They always make sure we have something hot to eat, something to drink and somewhere to lay our heads at night,” Georgia said.

Georgia is just one of many who sing the praises of Hearts for the Homeless. According to Poorman, all of the feedback she's received has been positive.

“The response from the homeless community has been wonderful. They have just been so grateful to have somewhere to go during the day. The response from the community has been huge. I spent five-and-a-half to six hours Saturday morning answering emails and phone calls. It's been crazy,” Poorman said.

To keep operating costs at a minimum, Poorman is using all volunteer help. No one at Hearts for Homeless receives a paycheck, she said.

“The people who are down there right now, including myself, are all volunteers,” she said matter-of-factly.

Poorman is a busy lady. In addition to being the brains behind Hearts for the Homeless, she works two jobs and has a young daughter. She said the help she receives makes the engine run smoothly.

“A couple of (volunteers) are people I know or am friends with,” Poorman said, “but most of them are complete strangers. I'd say that 85 percent of them were complete strangers to me.”

Although Hearts for the Homeless is off to a good start, Poorman said they're not out of the woods yet. Volunteers are needed, as are monetary donations.

“Financially, you can make donations to Hearts for the Homeless … mail them to us or bring them to us, either way is fine,” Poorman said.

Hearts for the Homeless also accepts donations of items. However, Poorman asked that those who are donating items call in advance.

“If you have stuff to bring, we prefer that you email or call just to make sure that we have space or it or it's stuff that we take,” she said.

If you are homeless and need help, it's very easy to get assistance.

“Just walk in the door,” Poorman said.

Hearts for the Homeless is a project very near and dear to Poorman's heart. She worked with the homeless for five years in Pittsburgh. However, Centre County is her home. She had no idea the need for shelters was so great.

“I grew up here, I've lived here my whole life. I had absolutely no idea that our homeless population was in the double digits,” Poorman said. “This is a very rich community and area. People just have no idea.”

As for a snapshot of the homeless, it's not who you might envision, according to Poorman.

“It's the woman who's checking out your groceries or is serving you food for lunch,” she said. “Then she goes and sleeps in her car, you know? They're working people, they're just homeless working people.”

There were 16 people counted as homeless in State College as of November, according to Calvary Baptist Church of State College. The church plays a vital role in Hearts for the Homeless, Poorman said.

“Calvary paid our insurance for an entire year. That was the very last hurdle we had to get over and it was a big one,” she said. “The (insurance company) wanted all the money up front for a year because we were a new organization. Calvary has been so gracious.”

Hearts for the Homeless wouldn't exist if Poorman hadn't come up with the concept.

Nancy Reinert of State College volunteers during the day. On a snowy Tuesday, Reinert unlocked the door and let everyone in.

“I really wanted to get involved,” Reinert said. “I know Ginny from Out of the Cold and she's just amazing. This is a great place.”

If you'd like to help out at Hearts for the Homeless, Poorman asked that volunteers call ahead of time before showing up.

“We have people just showing up, which is amazing. But somedays we have just one person and then on Saturday, we had eight people show up. Having eight people just show up was awesome and exciting, but not really necessary,” Poorman said.

To volunteer your time, contact coordinator John Henderson at john@calvarysc.corg.

For more information about Hearts for the Homeless, visit its website at http://heartsforthehomeless.wordpress.com.



Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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