Ranks of homeless swelling in Md.

November 29, 1990|By Rafael Alvarez

Bad news from the economic trenches:

* The number of homeless families in Maryland seeking shelter increased significantly last year; they now make up nearly half of all the homeless people in the state.

* One-third of all people in shelters on any given night in Maryland are under age 19.

* This year, 50,000 people will be turned away from shelters for lack of room, an increase of 20 percent.

"While we're all hurting more these days, some are hurting more than others," said Norma Pinette, a spokeswoman for Action for the Homeless, which studied shelter patterns in Maryland last year. "While some people are thinking about whether they can afford a new car, others are thinking of whether they have a place to sleep. What is belt-tightening for some of us is life-threatening for others."

The statistics from the survey, conducted among 147 shelters around the state during a week in July, showed that on any given night in Maryland 5,000 people are looking for a place to sleep.

But there are only about 3,000 shelter beds for that population, and families made up nearly 60 percent of the people who were turned away because all beds were filled.

"Two to three years ago, only about one-fourth of the homeless were families; now it's about half. The new homeless are families," said Ms. Pinette.

She said the survey, which took four months and cost about $4,000, will be presented at 11 a.m. today at a news conference at the BWI Holiday Inn in Linthicum.

In 1986 and 1987, about 2,000 people sought shelter at night in Maryland. With that number now at 5,000, homeless activists are seeking a significant increase in state funding.

Ms. Pinette said this year's state contribution to shelters is $4.5 million, a little less than one-fourth of all money contributed annually to Maryland's homeless problem.

In the coming year, she said, lobbyists will be seeking an additional $2.3 million from the state -- $1.8 million for new beds and $500,000 to hire about 15 counselors to help find people permanent shelter.

"I don't know whether we'll get it, but it's an extremely realistic amount to ask for," Ms. Pinette said.

With the way things are going in Annapolis, according to a spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the money may not be there.

"The budget climate is not good," Paul Schurick said. "We're going to have a shortfall in revenue this year, and indications are that revenue increases will remain low next year. Just yesterday the legislature imposed a ceiling of 5 percent growth for next year's [total state] budget. That's probably barely enough to cover the cost of things the state has no control over."

To Ms. Pinette's point of view, a little extra money for parents and children without homes could be found somewhere in a state with a current budget of $11.6 billion.

"The way this problem is growing," she said, "it's a small amount."

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