This is the second of a multi-part series that addresses the issue of homelessness and hunger in Southern Maryland, and specifically Charles County. The first story titled Moving Day, appeared in the Maryland Daily Examiner and told the story of a homeless man who had to move from the land he occupied in the woods and onto another area of the woods within Waldorf.

With winter storm Jonas was making its way towards Southern Maryland, federal, state, and local governments were preparing their emergency snow plans. People were raiding grocery stores to stockpile on food and toiletries. Home improvement store shelves were being emptied of generators, snow blowers and batteries. Cars and trucks gas tanks were topped off with just in case. The news and weather predictions indicated it would be the worse storm of the century.  In this story I will talk about the creation of an organization and the people working behind the scenes to make a difference in their community during this major blizzard.

While people were scrambling about making sure they were prepared for the storm, a small cadre of citizens were thinking about the “invisible” people. You know the people I’m talking about, the ones standing on the corners with a cup in their hand asking for food; or that disheveled soul asleep in the fast food restaurant; maybe it’s the lady with all her belongings crammed in the back seat of the car she lives in; perhaps its one of the truly “invisible people”, the ones who live in the woods...

It started with a meeting between two ladies, both dedicated to making a difference in their community. Arline Arnold, the co-founder of The Arnold House, which is a grass roots organization dedicated to raising awareness on the plight of homelessness and hunger in Southern Maryland. This newly founded organization is an advocate for those in need and partners with citizens, businesses, and various organizations to deliver meals and other basic necessities to the less fortunate. Bernadette Cole, Broker/Owner of EXIT Landmark Realty White Plains and Clinton,  someone who has helped many families in need through home placement, food donations, and other charitable contributions.

The two ladies came together through the power of social media.  The Arnold House sent a message out on Facebook soliciting donations for the “Backpack Program”, a program that the Arnold House partnered with the local chapter of United for Blue, a (501 (C) (3)  formed to increase public support for our nation's Law Enforcement officers by united them with communities they serve. The program gives organizations the opportunity to adopt a Charles County Public School and commit to providing breakfast and lunch for the weekend throughout the school year for needy children. The backpacks are delivered to the school(s) on Thursdays and returned on Mondays for restocking (weekly).

 As chance would have it, the message got to Bernadette and she and Arline met to talk about what could be done.  During the meeting, the simple question was asked, “What will the homeless do when this storm comes?” That set the wheels in motion for Project Safe Haven 2016.

A call to action was sent out. Bernadette would work to find a place for people to weather the storm while Arline would go out to the homeless camps and bring people out of the woods. Together, they would use their network of friends, coworkers, family and the community at large to collect food; prepare hot meals; to provide blankets; clothing; personal hygiene items; and most importantly a warm place to stay for a few days.

Fortunately they were able to obtain some available rooms at the Waldorf Motel.  The staff and management at the motel worked with the ladies to provide rooms at a discounted rate and worked to get the newly arriving guests quickly situated. They also allowed the ladies to convert the motel lobby into the staging area for supplies and use the front desk as a makeshift kitchen for feeding everyone.

Word quickly spread about what was being done and literally every five minutes the phone rang about either someone asking about a room or the ladies checking to see what the count was so far. On one end you would hear Arline saying, “How many of you need a room?” or “We will have to move that person to another room so we can put a family there.” The phone would ring again, this time it was Bernadette on the line asking, “How many people do we have now?” or her telling us “I just got another donation so we can add more rooms.”  In all over 20 rooms were provided for and meals were supplied for 90 people at the motel.  Additionally, another 40 meals were delivered to needy families around the county.

As people poured into the lobby to be fed, not only was their gratitude continually expressed, but you began to hear their stories of what brought some of them here.  There was Leo, who I first saw walking through the mountains of snow in tennis shoes, sweat pants, a hoodie and a buttonless jacket over that.  His disheveled appearance was quickly forgotten as you listened to his stories.  "My mother died, my father died, and the house burnt down."  "Then turned around and they told me I had cancer."  His story quickly rolled off his tongue and before you could feel any sympathy for him, he rolled into another story on his life out on the streets.  He would say, "It's okay though, because I'm just happy to be off the streets while its this cold."

Then there was the families who have lived at the motel for nearly a year that struggled to make ends meet.  Gene,  is a handyman who works in Prince George's county hasn't been able to get  to work, has no money for food or diapers for his six month old child.  He's late on his rent, but fortunately, the hotel is willing to work with him since he has done some work for them in the past and has generally paid his rent on time since he's been here.  Rick (not his real name) would ride his bicycle from Capital Heights to see his girl and make an honest woman out of her.  He was on his way to making a better life for he and his family, then the job he was promised never came through, so today he cares for his wife, who's expecting their second child and their six month old son working at a car wash detailing cars.

In addition to providing shelter and a warm meal many of the volunteers began talking with the guests and listening to their stories.  As the stories were told and the needs revealed, it was amazing how quickly people took action on helping.  Boots for one, feminine products for another, an outfit for an upcoming job interview, hand warmers, whatever was needed calls were made to make it happen.

Having visited the homeless camps and feeding those on the streets, we at The Arnold House are often asked "What church we are with?" and as Bernadette discovered in talking with one of the guest, she too was asked "What church we were from?" and she simply replied "we were just people who came together because we wanted to make sure that we helped those in need out during the storm". The woman tearfully said, "this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me!".

It would be nice to say this story has a happy ending, but the reality is we haven't even begun to truly address the issues as a county, state, and nation.  The partnership between the Arnold House and Exit Landmark Reality, along with the outpouring of the community spent over $4200 to feed and house just a few individuals during the storm, excluding other donations of clothing, blankets and other food items.  This took care of a small number of people in Charles County.  

According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) data, in 2014, the total homeless population in Maryland was 7,856 individuals.  Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s counties  population contained the second highest share of the homeless population (14.5%). That's about 1100 people in Southern Maryland.  Although statewide , the majority of the homeless population are individuals, in Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s counties, 49.9% of the homeless population are people in families.  For more information, read the Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis Annapolis, Maryland September 2015 Overview Homelessness and Homeless Services in Maryland. 

The question that remains as this humanitarian effort ends is "Now what?"  "Where will these people go?"

There are many organizations that are working to make a difference, "The Arnold House" is one that does so with a "boots on the ground" approach towards fighting the plight of homelessness and hunger through delivering meals and providing other basic necessities to those in need.  For more information about who they are or how you can help call 202.494.7556 or  Contributions can also be made using PayPal to

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