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Operation Safety Net

by Janet Nesler

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"Homelessness is real, and it has to stop somewhere," said Maureen Cadogan, director of the Scioto County Homeless Shelter. The citizens of Portsmouth, Ohio are helping to make that happen. Cadogan has many angels who have helped the shelter to grow from a 4 room upstairs apartment to a 12 room house, now called Operation Safety Net, located at 615 8th Street, Portsmouth. October 3 the shelter observed its three year anniversary and have helped 1000 homeless people to a new life.

Existing under the umbrella of Scioto Christian Ministries, Inc. the shelter opened in 1994 when a group of community leaders, concerned citizens and social service providers banded together
to discuss the need for a shelter. Father Pat Toner, who was pastor of St. Mary's Church heard there was a need for a shelter. Father Toner offered the old upstairs Convent behind St Mary's
Church as a gratis shelter.

"We were in that building for two years," said Cadogan, "But we had 28 people everyday and we had them jammed in every way. Their stay could only be about two weeks because of the large turnover.

When a couple of business men heard we needed a bigger place they came to me and said to find a house and they would make it happen."

"We started looking and finally found the house we are using now. We thought it would be too expensive, but we contacted the owner and made an offer. He said, "OK" and I said, "Put that in writing." I took the paper to the benefactors and they said "Fine, lets go to the bank." We call them our angels and they prefer to remain nameless. The whole community stepped in to help
us move, and settle in. Youth groups, Sunday School groups and individuals. We threw the smaller things over the banister and they packed it over here and put it in place. We call them our angel patrols."

Even after moving in the angel patrols came and took names of children and bought clothes and toys for them. Last month a group in Sciotoville had a deodorant drive. The local J.C. organization donated bunk beds and personal hygiene items. Open House was held on May 14, 1997 right after the spring flood. Baseball player John Wetman of The Texas Rangers heard about the flood and said he wanted to help, so he sent a truckload of cleaning supplies, food items, Easter candy and boxes of toys for the children. We shared some of Wetman's contribution with the other needy in the community," said Cadogan.

"I heard about cuts that were to be made on money for homelessness, so I called every politician. Senators, Governors, and even the President. I called and wrote them all. I told them
they were not hurting the figures on paper, they were hurting real people. I challenged each of them to come and look into the faces of the homeless and tell them they are not going to get
food anymore. The only two that came were State Representative Bill Ogg, of Portsmouth and Congressman Frank Cremeans. I prepared a cup of rice with no butter and that was the only meal of the day. I asked if they could eat this and then tell their children, "I'm sorry for your hunger pains." They didn't eat it but they said they could see what I was
saying."

Creameans adopted the shelter and over a period of time sent four semi©truck loads. The first truck arrived just before Christmas last year. There were toys, blankets, clothes and lots of food. The trucks came from "Feed the Children" in Oklahoma.

"We contacted the local food pantries and Service Providers and put all the excess in their hands to give to the needy. We helped Adams County, Lawrence County, Ross County, Scioto County and Brown County. We received 41,000 lbs of candy and truckloads of juice. It was a real blessing and I still call Creameans, Congressman Creameans, even though he is not in office anymore." Another Angel that Cadogan feels was sent by God is Evan William
McGue, better known as Barnyard Willie. McGue is always available to help in any way he can and is a regular financial contributor. Originally from Carey's Run, McGue was living in
Arizona and was having problems with his health. He began to pray about coming home and asking how the Lord could use him in this area.

"About a week after I began praying, I got a Portsmouth newspaper and read the story about the homeless shelter being started in the convent," said McGue, "I knew that was where the Lord wanted to use me. I contacted Maureen Cadogan, then shortly after moved back to the area. I was pretty ill at the time but I knew I was going to get better because God had a job for me to do." McGue has respiratory problems and goes the ER regularly for breathing treatments. He started entertaining the children at the hospital by clowning to cheer them up. He started buying balloons, suckers and little badges to take on his visits and got him a hat and a vest for badges and so Barnyard Willie was born. McGue has since made tapes for shut-ins, "Barnyard Willie" and "Silly Willie" and also a religious tape.

"I moved back here when the home was in the old convent," said McGue, "and it had too many steps so I told Maureen we were going to pray for a different place and that's when we got the big house."

Several fund©raisers have been held this past year, one was the Great American Sleep©out held last November, a Homeless Project all across America. People slept in the park to generate concern and heighten awareness about the reality of homelessness.

"People don't sleep outside in the freezing cold because they want to, but because they have no other recourse," said Cadogan. We had our sleep-out in Tracy Park in Portsmouth and it was zero degrees. We had a military tent and a turbo heater to take the chill off. Domino's Pizza provided pizza and hot soup. We asked the people who came to brave the cold, If you had no cot, no tent, no pizza or soup, how would you feel? We just wanted them to be aware. If the Government doesn't stop making cutbacks on the poverty stricken then homelessness will become a national institution."

"Another fund©raiser was a Body Auction held in the summer. We contacted different prominent people and asked if we could auction them off to the highest bidder for one hour. The bidder had 12 months to use that hour. If they liked you they could take you to dinner or they could have you mow their lawn or walk their dog. It was a lot of fun, we auctioned off the Mayor and his opponent, police officers, County Commissioners. We made $1,200 in 40 minutes."

Operation Safety Net cannot solve all problems of the homeless, but caring volunteers in the shelter can give support to make a traumatic time easier to cope with.

"Homelessness can happen to anyone," said Cadogan, "Low-income renters are just one paycheck or one calamity away from homelessness. The shelter is there to help people regain their independence in a clean, safe environment."

 

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