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The beat of Laurel: A new Laurel emergency shelter information line

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Posted on: January 11, 2024

By BOB REILLY

The community now has an information line providing people with information as to where they can find local shelters. In addition, the information line also offers detailed information regarding support resources in our area and neighboring counties. 

The idea for the information line emerged on Nov. 28, when the temperature was predicted to drop to the low 20s.

Phil Ott was notified somewhere between 3 to 4 p.m. that afternoon by the city that the cabana building on Laurel-Bowie Road would be available for an emergency cold weather shelter. As president of the Laurel nonprofit Taking Care of Our Neighbors, Ott is right in the middle of the emergency shelter universe. He works directly with the mayor’s office in the event of temperatures below 26 degrees to meet the needs of the unsheltered in the community. 

Ott scrambled to pull his team together to take care of people in need. Even newly elected Mayor Keith Syndnor showed up that evening to thank the shelter team. 

The shelter closed its doors at 9:30 p.m. as no unhoused or unstably housed people showed up. 

Why?

The next morning, I consulted with Ott and two others who work to provide shelter, Councilmember Carl Dewalt (Ward 1) and Ruth Walls, president of Patrons for Peace Project Inc. They all agreed a more proactive means of communication with the target communities was needed. They also agreed that Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services (LARS) would be the best organization to start the process. LARS is the central hub of support for the unhoused, unstably housed, marginalized communities and people who have fallen into financial hard times. The organization helps people get connected to the resources they need to survive and, ultimately, thrive.

Later that morning, I met with Mark Huffman, director of client services, and Shannon Mouton, executive director of LARS. We discussed the need for a community information line to communicate shelter updates and provide information about available resources. They were very receptive to the idea and began working on setting up a dedicated phone line and building content. 

Following my meeting with LARS, I received written correspondence on Dec. 8 from Huffman. He shared the following, “Just wanted to confirm that we have set up an information line for emergency shelters in Laurel. We are calling it the Laurel Emergency Shelter Information Line. There will be a message on that line with the most current information we have about emergency shelters in the community. It’s currently just in English but will soon be in Spanish as well.”

On Dec. 20, in a follow-up statement, Huffman noted, “We have the Laurel Emergency Shelter Information Line – up and running. When notified, we are prepared to put out the information through the line and are also working on a way of doing a ‘push’ notification of clients we know are unstably housed or unhoused.”

The push Huffman is referring to in his statement is the idea of sending proactive phone alerts to known LARS clients who could take advantage of the shelter or help advise others of shelter availability. Having this type of alert system would be a game changer:real-time updates, a really good vision.

The latest update on the Laurel Emergency Shelter Information Line advises people about the Laurel Winter Shelter program, which began Jan. 7. Men or women over the age of 18 who are in need can register at LARS to participate in the program. For more information, call 301.708.3799.

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