This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for more than 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
In the Spring of 2022, Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS) will open Evelyn’s Place at 109 Goldsborough Street in Easton. The new house is named after Evelyn Sedlack who founded Talbot Interfaith Shelter in 2008.
According to Julie Lowe, Executive Director of Talbot Interfaith Shelter, “For many years, our strategic plan has included the prospect of a second shelter facility so that we can expand our capacity to help more of our neighbors in need. In the spring of 2020, when the COVID crisis began, we anticipated devastating economic repercussions for many in our community. Even before eviction courts reopened in September, we were already receiving an influx of calls from local families and individuals in need of shelter.”
Julie and her board looked for suitable houses in Easton but were unable to find a house that provided both the environment and the location that would work. When the house next door to the current shelter came on the market, it made sense from a logistical standpoint to buy it.
Julie recalls the challenges that both houses have posed the board in transitioning them to shelter facilities, “Although Easton Promise was ideal from the standpoint of what we needed in a house, we had huge hurdles to overcome in the community about having a shelter in the neighborhood, including an appeal to both the Talbot County Circuit Court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Evelyn’s Place doesn’t pose those sorts of challenges, because of the good reputation TIS has built on Goldsborough Street but instead has had challenges related to permits and code compliance, which we are working through now and hope to have solved by spring.”
“We are thrilled to have found a property where guests will have a home and a sense of belonging. With seven bedrooms, three full baths, a kitchen, meeting space, in-house laundry facilities and more, this is a perfect setting for guests to regain stability as they work towards earning a place in one of our off-site transitional apartments.”
Since its founding in 2008, Talbot Interfaith Shelter had grown from a seasonal shelter to a year-round operation. For five years after it opened, the shelter was a “homeless” homeless shelter, rotating cots, blankets, supplies and support through Talbot’s faith congregations, including St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Christ Church Easton, Christ Church St. Michaels, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Easton, Third Haven Friends Meeting, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cordova, and the Temple B’nai Israel. Teams of volunteers from 19 faith communities came together to bring hot meals, drive shelter guests to showers at the YMCA, make bagged lunches and spend time with the shelter’s guests. Shelter guests had to leave each morning and return in the evening to allow the churches and synagogue to conduct their normal schedules of day school and outreach meetings.
Because of the five-person per night limit imposed by the fire code, the shelter was initially designed to serve individuals. Knowing that homeless families were the fastest-growing population of homeless persons in our area, TIS was committed to providing a safe haven to families in need as well. According to Julie, this restriction, and the fact that the organization was unable to provide daytime shelter, made it practically impossible to help families in the faith-based rotating shelter model. Since the need for housing far surpasses this restriction, the group began investigating buildings and properties with an eye toward a permanent facility that would allow them to function year-round. At the same time, Talbot Interfaith Shelter began supporting one family at a time in an apartment rented to them in 2011 by the Housing Commission of Talbot.
After looking at various properties in Easton, the organization began to negotiate with the owners of Easton’s Promise Bed and Breakfast to purchase their property at 107 Goldsborough Street as a permanent home in early 2014. The house had five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen. A counseling room was later added to the back of the house.
Since that time, Talbot Interfaith Shelter has juggled a full population of men, women and families with children in the Easton’s Promise building. Julie is excited that the new property next door will enable the organization to separate the singles from the families and better meet the needs of each guest being served. The current plans are for Evelyn’s Place to focus on single men and women, while Easton’s Promise will become a families-only facility.
A large part of the success of Talbot Interfaith Shelter’s work is related to its long-term comprehensive program creating self-sufficiency, moving its guests to transitional housing and independence. Known as the S4 Program, which stands for Shelter, Stability, Support, and Success, guests work with the TIS Director of Operations to create a plan designed to help them to regain financial stability. Guests may receive help with finding employment and receiving educational programming. Once guests reach a certain level of financial security, as well as emotional, mental, and physical stability, they are invited to move into transitional housing, provided that there is an apartment available. Rent is subsidized, and guests continue to receive rigorous case management for one to two years as they incrementally take over their expenses until they are fully self-sufficient. Even after guests have “graduated” from the S4 program, Talbot Interfaith Shelter continues to follow up with them and offer guidance and support. Among the new partnerships with whom the organization has recently engaged are Habitat Choptank and For All Seasons.
“We are currently leasing a Habitat Choptank house on Port Street for our transitional housing program and have a family working toward owning a house through the program,” Julie states. “We are also offering classes for our staff and board in trauma-informed mental health through For All Seasons, starting in February. We will offer parenting classes for our families through For All Seasons as well. Both of these partners are invaluable in helping us meet our mission of ‘ending homelessness on Maryland’s Mid-Shore by providing Shelter, Stability, Support, and a path to Success for families and individuals in need.’ ”
The shelter and Transitional Housing Program currently hosts 11 families, including 18 children (with two on the way). Guests range in age from newborn to 63 years old. The organization continues to need support to fund its daily operations. Julie encourages community members and businesses to enroll in monthly giving if they are able. Talbot Interfaith Shelter has also established a Quasi-Endowment Fund to set aside funds for the new building and future projects.
“There are so few affordable housing units on the market today. I am loath to take units away from the overwhelmed market for our transitional housing. I would love to see our organization, or an offshoot of our organization, build an apartment building to add to the community’s affordable housing stock. That might be the focus of a capital campaign in our future,” she explains.
Julie credits her board with being very forward-thinking and supportive of creative solutions. Anyone wishing to schedule a tour of the side-by-side shelters may reach out to Julie at 410-310-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For giving and volunteer opportunities, visit talbotinterfaithshelter.org.