Four hours before she expected to land on the street, Victoria Thompson, homeless and seven months pregnant, packed her belongings and began making a frantic round of calls.
Fearing she and her 2-year-old daughter had to leave Sarah's House, the county's main homeless shelter, Thompson called her father and begged him to find room for them.
Six other homeless families staying at a transitional shelter at Sarah's House thought they'd be evicted by nightfall yesterday. Some pleaded with friends and relatives to take them in. Two mothers said they had no place to go.
"I called my friends," said Donna Wright,cradling her baby in her arms. "But they don't want us in their house. It's too crowded as it is."
Another young mother, who was worried about her sick 6-year-old daughter, said she planned to rent a motel room until her money ran out. "Everybody's panicking," she said.
The crisis began when the families realized yesterday was their last day at the shelter, but they couldn't move into public housing. Sarah's House took them in with a special six-month grant that ended July 31.
Thompson, Wright and two other families expected to move into apartments at Meade Village and Freetown by Monday. But by yesterday afternoon, they still hadn't received their keys.
Sarah's House had no room for the women and children in its emergency shelter.
Caught in the economic slump, more and more poor families can no longer scrape by on their own, said Mary Lee Bradyhouse, director of the homeless shelter located at Fort Meade. Shelters throughout the area have been full this summer.
Although the families living at Sarah'sHouse feared they had to leave by 5 p.m. yesterday, Bradyhouse said none would be evicted. She and Susan Thompson, who heads the longer-term, transitional housing program, called the panic a false alarm.
"We would never exit people into homelessness," Thompson said. "We're not in the business of putting people into homelessness, we're in the business of trying to stop it."
The program directors said theyannounced yesterday was the deadline to encourage the families to make contingency plans. Director Thompson emphasized that Sarah's Housecollaborated with other agencies, including the Community Action Agency, "trying desperately, day in and day out, to find other housing.
"We thought public housing would be available as folks were displaced, but unfortunately the time line didn't quite work out," she said.
Two of the homeless mothers went to the county Housing Authorityyesterday to find out when they could move into Meade Village. Edwina Hall, 30, who has a 2-year-old daughter, said she was told her apartment would be ready by the end of the week.
At 4 p.m. yesterday, the four families were told they would receive their keys the next morning.
Victoria Thompson, who expected to move into her father's crowded home last night, said she almost burst into tears when she heard the news.
"I'm so happy," she said. "It's a shame we had to go through this. But now I'm finally going to have a place of my own."
She and the other families moved into the transitional shelter, used earlier this year by a group of Kuwaiti refugees, when the county provided a six-month grant in February. The county Department of Social Services spent $16,000 to keep another, longer-term shelter open for families during the spring, said Marjorie Bennett, a DSS official.
"This was a temporary thing until the residents were able to receive some sort of permanent housing," Bennett said. "The problem is that those funds are gone, and this particular summer, the shelters are full everywhere."
Bennett and the directors of Sarah's House said they thought the families would move into Meade Village several weeksbefore the deadline.
Housing officials blamed the delay on a paperwork snafu. When the families were briefed about public housing options 30 days ago, they were told to provide birth certificates, incomeverification and Social Security cards. Several failed to submit thenecessary paperwork, which delayed their moves, said Glenndale Johnson, occupancy supervisor for the authority.
"I needed those files,and I told them I could not help if (they weren't) received by Monday," Johnson explained.
The families turned in their paperwork Tuesday, forcing the authority to scramble to get the apartments ready, she said.
While one man and his son found room at the men's shelterat Sarah's House last night, the women picked up the phone again to spread the good news. Tomorrow, they would be leaving the shelter fora place of their own.