Officials Back Shelter Rezoning

Forward Step Serves A Need, Planner Says

February 17, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Harford's chief of planning and zoning and a veteran's hospital administrator support a request by Forward Step Inc., one of two homelessshelters in the county, to change its zoning so it can legally provide shelter for men.

William G. Carroll, Harford's planning and zoning director, and an administrator from the Perry Point Veteran's Administration Hospital have either testified in person or submitted written supporting statements at two zoning hearings on Forward Step's request. The most recent hearing was Monday night. A previous hearing was conducted Nov. 26.

The shelter's current zoning limits the shelter to providing helponly for abused and homeless women in crisis.

Forward Step Inc., a private, non-profit program, applied for the zoning change after itwas cited last summer for accepting referrals of homeless men from the Perry Point Veteran's Administration Hospital. Forward Step Inc. has accepted male boarders under a private-pay arrangement since March 1990.

J. William McNally, a retired Methodist minister who is the executive director of Forward Step Inc., said he began accepting referrals from Perry Point after the shelter's grant money payments were cut off by county administrators.

Forward Step had its federal, state and county grant money cut off in February 1989 because county administrators found the shelter had not had yearly audits. County law requires grant recipients to be audited annually.

A planning andzoning staff report signed by Carroll and submitted at the Nov. 26 hearing, shows county officials support the zoning change to allow male boarders.

"After reviewing the request, the Department of Planning and Zoning finds that the center serves a very real need in this county. The Department agrees with Reverend McNally that abuse is abuse, whether it is directed at men or women," the report said.

Donald Crone, director of the Community Care Program at the Perry Point Veteran's Administration Hospital, said in an interview last week, "As far as the day-to-day operation, they've been doing a great job."

Crone testified Nov. 26 in support of Forward Step's request.

"If Forward Step wasn't there, it would mean longer periods of hospitalization for some patients or moving into situations with less supervision than is ideal," he said.

On behalf of residents in the area opposed to the zoning change, Casey subpoenaed James M. Jewell, the county treasurer; Lawrence J. Berardelli, director of social services; Donna deBussy, director of the Sexual Assault-Spouse Abuse/Rape Crisis Center in Bel Air; and McNally.

Jewell presented the hearing examiner with documents relating to Forward Step's application for state grants administered by the county, and the county's subsequent refusalto release the grant money.

Berardelli testified that 263 homeless women and children who could have used Forward Step or a similar facility had applied to the Department of Social Services for help between July 1989 and June 1990.

Berardelli said the county needs a homeless shelter for men, but he noted there is a greater need for temporary housing for homeless women and their children.

McNally did not testify, and deBussy's testimony was rejected because Casey had ruled in November that SARC had no standing in the case.

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