Monday, February 12, 2001

Ward helps people recover

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's after midnight on a January weeknight. More than a dozen men are asleep on wooden benches or mats in the first-floor meeting area at the Drop-Inn Center.

        Not everybody is asleep. One man sporting a Tennessee Volunteers T-shirt is fighting and losing a battle to fall asleep while sitting on a bench.

        Another man, with a full gray beard, is carrying on a conversation with no one in particular.

        All of these men arrived too late to get one of the more-comfortable mattresses in the men's dormitory.

[photo] Glen Ward is a night shelter crew leader at the Drop-Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
        Anyone who enters the homeless shelter in Over-the-Rhine on this night has to pass muster with Glen Ward, the night shelter crew leader on duty.

        “You need to be in before 10 o'clock,” Mr. Ward, a 47-year-old Over-the-Rhine resident, informed a steady stream of people who knock on the door after midnight seeking shelter from subfreezing temperatures. “That's our curfew for residents that don't work.”

        That's what he says, but on this night everyone who knocks gets to come in out of the cold.

        “We let all residents in, regardless, in the winter,” Mr. Ward said.

        As of midnight, 290 men and 10 women had sought shelter at the center on West 12th Street. The facility has room for about 400 men and 50 women.

Most have jobs
        Contrary to public perception, most of the people who stay at the center have jobs.

        “We try to encourage them to go out and seek employment,” Mr. Ward said. “About 75 percent work, including the labor pools.”

        Alcohol, drug and mental health problems make it difficult for the others to seek and hold a job. Mental health workers visit the center two or three times a week to assist these residents.

        Residents who work are re quired to give 50 percent of their earnings to the center so the money can be saved to provide them with a nest egg for a deposit and first month's rent once they land a regular job.

        Often, the success stories are short-lived.

        “The problem is the majority of them come back,” Mr. Ward said.

        Many have lived in the center “as long as me,” said Mr. Ward, who has worked at the center for nine years.

Stories are familiar
        Mr. Ward is well-equipped to understand and deal with the homeless and their problems. He knows from whence they come.

        More than nine years ago, he was homeless as the result of alcohol and drug problems. A chance meeting with the center founder and former director, the late Buddy Gray, at a City Hall demonstration directed him to the Drop-Inn Center. That led to referrals to agencies to help with his substance abuse problems.

        “In April, I'll be clean 10 years,” he said proudly.

        Not all of the homeless are substance abusers or ne'er-do-wells who don't want to work.

        “Anybody can become homeless,” Mr. Ward said. “It's the circumstances. You might get locked out for one night (by your spouse or roommate). You're homeless for one night.”

       If you have a suggestion for Night watch, call William A. Weathers at 768-8340; fax 768-8340.

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