Campus Minister helps transition from camps to homes

Published by Southern Maryland Newspapers on July 10, 2020

Eric Moore of Leonardtown was sitting in his living room Tuesday night watching the rain. It wasn’t that long ago when he had to endure downpours from a tent — his living quarters before the Three Oaks Center and a minister at St. Mary’s Ryken High School helped him move into his own place.

“I absolutely despise the rain. It’s miserable being in it,” the 39-year-old said. “But I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

Beth Allen, the campus minister, said the Caritas, which is Latin for charity, Resource Center partnered with the Three Oaks Center to move those who were homeless into apartments, equip them with furniture and provide food. Through a voucher system the families and individuals can live rent-free in an apartment or town home.

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Beth Allen in the Caritas Resource Center on the St. Mary's Ryken Campus

“We’ve actually been involved with Three Oaks for almost a decade. The effort exploded since COVID started,” she said.

Allen said St. Mary’s Ryken President Rick Wood provided them with a space in the Catholic school’s old weight room. It’s filled with clothes, furniture and other knickknacks that made it resemble an IKEA.

Moore said he and his mother were homeless for nearly a year after his father died. He was stressed out, miserable and turned to alcohol. He moved into the encampment with no idea what the end result would be. But an opportunity for Moore and his mother to each have their own place motivated him to turn things around.

“I’m not used to it, things working out,” he said.

Moore received a brown couch from the resource center after he moved in last week as well as a piece of artwork to match. He said he enrolled in a program at Walden to treat his alcoholism and wants to pursue a career in social work.

For now, he spends his days trying to get back on his feet. And he spent his Wednesday helping others he once knew from the encampment move into their own new places.

Two pickup trucks full of furniture drove over to Michael Presnell’s place in Lexington Park to help with the move. The 23-year-old moved in at the beginning of the month. He showed off the electric trash can the resource center gave him that opens the lid automatically.

Presnell was homeless at the age of 18 and spent a lot of his young adult life moving around the country. The Arizona native lived in Maine and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he had roommate disputes and disagreements on the job, before coming to St. Mary’s.

He said he’s worked multiple jobs and is no fan of the fast food industry. Presnell said he is hoping for a job in the county government’s recreation and parks department.

His new apartment is equipped with TVs, curtains, couches and chairs. Only two pieces of furniture are not from the resource center, he said.

“They picked it out for me and they made a very good selection,” he said about the St. Mary’s Ryken volunteers. Allen reminded Presnell that he picked out two bungee chairs that sit in his living room.

Willy Arrington, who lives close to Presnell, showed his two-year-old son’s room with blue blankets, a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal and a stroller that also worked as a tricycle — all donated from the resource center.

Arrington said he was homeless for five years and slept in his friend’s truck. When his friend recommended he visit Three Oaks, he was soon in the WARM program, a group that aids those who are homeless.

“But I do all this for my son,” he said. He wanted his two-year-old to have a place he could stay when he hangs out with his dad. It’s also a step Arrington is making to at least have joint custody.

Arrington said he wants to take the advice about Three Oaks and pass it on to others.

Rich Summers, who recently moved into a town house, also had a room decked out by resource center volunteers for his child who had been in foster care. It had pink bedding with black and white polkadots. Shoes lined the walls and stuffed animals sat on a book shelf and dresser. A desk was in a corner and bike sat in front of the window.

Summers said when he showed his 11-year-old daughter the house on video chat, she was already instructing him on where to put the rest of the furniture.

“She wants to come home,” he said.

Summers said the room set up was “the biggest worry taken off of me” and was completely taken away by the end result.

A few of the new apartment owners helped move furniture into Cynthia Young’s Lexington Park home. They delivered a new couch, a coffee table and a dining room set. Days prior, volunteers delivered her bed and her two kids joined her in jumping on it.

“I’m loving it, they picked out everything so nicely,” the 53-year-old, who moved in May 13, said.

Young’s troubles started at a young age when she fell into depression, drug and alcohol abuse. She said she spent 14 years with a man who abused her emotionally, mentally and physically. She later left the relationship and enrolled in a rehab facility in Baltimore.

“It’s just been a hard road,” she said.

But Young said she was been clean since 2012. Although her jobs and living arrangements were inconsistent, she found stability after a late friend told her about Three Oaks.

“I went in there determined to do everything they asked,” she said.

She went from shelters to town homes to tents to the apartment she now lives in. As furniture was hauled in, she was planning how the rest of the place will look, like adding throw pillows on the couch and her late brother’s Bible on the living room table.

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Cynthia Young after moving furniture into her new apartment in Lexington Park, Maryland. 

Young said Allen is always helping and inspiring others. She said people can feed off her energy, which is helpful on the days that are not so easy. Young said she is trying to also help those in need.

“I just try to show my gratitude by helping as many people as I can,” she said.

If interested in donating to the Caritas Resource Center, email beth.allen@smrhs.org.

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