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Group forced to find new building for proposed homeless shelter

By Maria Miller
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- When the only homeless shelter in Cambria County closed it's doors for good this past October, a group of local nonprofits and help organizations got together and developed a plan to help the county's homeless population get back on their feet. The group even had a building they were ready to renovate, but recently they had to make a change of plans.

When the Salvation Army in Johnstown closed it's homeless shelter, Catholic Charities took the lead, helping the homeless find a place to stay until they could find a new shelter. A committee developed a set of guidelines and even found an old home in the Kernville section of Johnstown that they were getting ready to renovate until they hit a roadblock.

"We weren't able to get the zoning variances that we needed because it is a mass shelter," said Jean Johnstone, executive director of Catholic Charities. "There were other buildings we had our eyes on it, and we have now been approved to go to Dale  Borough, on Bedford Street."

The new location isn't as close to downtown as officials had hoped, but they said the new building is bigger, and the property will have room to make a parking lot.

"It will be pretty invisible to the outside world that it's a homeless shelter, but yet for our residents, it will feel like a home and a little community in Johnstown," said Johnstone.

The property was foreclosed by the government several years ago and purchased by the county. It's in need of some serious work, and officials don't expect it to be ready for nearly a year, so in the meantime, they're finding other ways to help the homeless.

"If they are in need and meet our criteria, we are housing them," said Johnstone. "Sometimes they only need a night or two until they can get stabilized, sometimes they need a longer period of up to seven days."

But as the organization has said before, the shelter will not be a handout, nor will it be a quick place to spend the night for those passing through -- both requests Johnstone said she already heard.

"We're worried about the people who live in this community, and those are the people that we are working to address their homeless needs," said Johnstone.

When the shelter officially opens, hopefully by Thanksgiving 2014, it will be equipped with a case manager whose sole purpose will be to help the homeless find jobs and permanent places to stay.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times