MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week we're getting by and getting ahead. Here in Washington, when we hear the words Ocean City, what do we think of? Lying on the beach, kicking back with a cocktail, maybe, digging into some soft shelled crabs? Well, the thing is, there's another whole side to the town that we don't often hear about.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But we'll hear about it today in our regular segment "On The Coast," here WAMU coastal reporter, Bryan Russo, joins us to talk about issues and events on Maryland's eastern shore and in coastal Delaware. This week, Bryan takes us inside a place dedicated to assisting people who've had some trouble getting by, the homeless. And Bryan joins us now from Ocean City. Hi there, Bryan, welcome back to "Metro Connection."
MR. BRYAN RUSSO
Hey Rebecca, nice to be back.
So you visited Diakonia, a homeless shelter in Ocean City. How big a problem is homelessness in the Ocean City area?
Well, leaders at local non-profits say it is a growing problem. Claudia Nagle, the executive director at Diakonia says, a growing number of men, women and even children are now knocking on our door. Many of them are people who used to donate food on a regular basis and now they're looking for a bag of food to help feed their own families.
MS. CLAUDIA NAGLE
Since last year, we have been running at or just below about 40 people a night in our emergency and transitional housing. We've seen a quadrupling of the requests for help through our emergency food pantry since 2008. In 2008, we did roughly about 3,000 food bags and in 2010, we did just over 12,000 food bags.
Now, Bryan, Claudia mentioned that Diakonia is an emergency and transitional shelter, what exactly does that mean?
There's two separate buildings at Diakonia, one is the emergency dormitory of sorts. It helps people from the moment they lose their homes. There's a kitchen, a common room, two sets of triple stack bunk beds to each room serving about 20 people, total. And they all share one shower and bathroom. Transitional housing is more like apartments for people who are a little further along. Most of them have found jobs but aren't quite yet to the point where they can survive on their own, hence transitional.
Now, the person who explained this all to me was a woman named Susan Blaney who gave me a tour of the facility. She handles all the food donations. But see, 14 years ago, she used to live here.
MS. SUSAN BLANEY
Nia cared about me until I could care about myself. Because I was hurt and I was broken. When I see somebody coming in, I can tell by the look on their face, what they're feeling. And I just get close to them and I try to make them comfortable. I let them know it's OK to feel the way they're feeling. It's a very crazy feeling. It's a very scary feeling. So I get that. I like...
So people like Susan, when she was homeless and of course the people she's helping now, how visible are they? I mean, I'm guessing that homelessness is a lot less visible in Ocean City than it might be in a place, like, D.C. or Baltimore.
Oh, definitely. It's really an amazing microcosm down here. Because, see, there's million dollar beach front condos and luxurious bay front estates. And of course, the beach that everybody knows about, which is actually just a mile away from the shelter. But what's hidden beneath all the escapism and summer fun is that there's a growing number of people just trying to figure out whether to feed their families or pay their electric bill. So there's this growing fight for survival, even in a place where people are coming to kick back and relax. Here's Susan Blaney again.
We've got people that come all day long knocking on the door for food. That's pretty humbling. So you don't want to belittle them. You just kind of smile and say, wow, we got some good food today. Make it really comfortable for them coming here and walking away with a couple bags full of food.
So, Bryan, what does Diakonia need the most right now? Are they looking for donations? Are they looking for volunteers?
Actually what they need the most is cash. Claudia Nagle told me that the number of volunteers offering to help has gone up at about the same rate as donations have gone down. Leading her to believe that even though people may not be able to write a check, they still want to give their time.
Well, summer is on its way, of course, and that's, you know, a pretty busy season on the coast. Are those who live at the shelter optimistic about what the next few months will hold for them?
Well, I have to leave you with this, I asked one of the folks who were staying at Diakonia, what they thought about the half million dollar townhouses that are right next door to the shelter which are nearly all vacant due to the housing market crash. And when I asked him that, he just smiled and said, some folks think times are tough now, but it won't always be like this. You just got to keep your head up, push on and believe that somebody like these fine folks will be there to help you get up if you fall along the way.
Bryan Russo is the host of Coastal Connection on 88.3 in Ocean City. You can learn more about Diakonia and all the things they do for the coastal community on our website, metroconnection.org.
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