The Baltimore County Department of Social Services has received $45,000 in public and private grants to help low income residents avoid eviction.
The grants come at a time when evictions are increasing in the county and when the state is poised to cut a program that has steered thousands of Marylanders through emergencies such as eviction.
Reacting to these new problems, the County Council last week approved a measure that would move $20,000 from a federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program to the Social Services Department. DSS also recently received a $25,000 grant for eviction-prevention services from a Baltimore foundation that asked to remain anonymous, said DSS director Camille Wheeler.
Because county law stipulates that each household can receive no more than $500 a year for eviction prevention, the two new grants totaling $45,000 will serve about 90 families.
In fiscal year 1990, the Department of Social Services supplied $551,554 in federal, state and county money to 2,689 households facing eviction. The following year, the county gave $675,332 to 3,344 households -- 655 more cases, and an increase of $123,778 in aid.
Catherine Kane, assistant director for administrative services at DSS, said: "We're seeing the increase because of the growth of the so-called 'new poor' -- working-to-middle-class people who are suddenly without income, and in debt up to their ears. The whole house of cards falls when people lose their salaries."
According to statistics from the District Court of Maryland, evictions in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore city rose by 54 percent from January 1986 through September 1991.
Across the region, the numbers leaped from an average of 714 evictions per month in 1986 to 1,092 last year. In Baltimore County evictions increased by 46 percent during that period.
Officials note, however, that even these figures are low because the court tabulates evictions only when furniture is moved outdoors and locks are changed. The statistics don't include tenants who leave home with their possessions before a state official shows up.
The areas with the highest rates in Baltimore County are, in order, Essex/Dundalk, Catonsville/Lansdowne and the Liberty Road corridor, said Ms. Wheeler.
The $500 in aid might not sound like much, but generally it allows families to avoid eviction for a month and to stabilize their financial situation, Ms. Wheeler said.
"Money we give is just part of our service," she said. "If people are in really deep trouble, we also provide job counseling, food stamps and AFDC money [from the state-funded Aid to Families with Dependent Children program]."
DSS' eviction-prevention effort has traditionally relied on money from the state's Emergency Assistance program. But the $3.2 million program probably will be eliminated April 1 as part of the state's reform of the welfare system.
Ms. Wheeler said DSS "isn't counting on Emergency Assistance money after April 1. It'll be hard to make up that lost money," she said, "since the county is broke, too. But the private community -- churches, foundations, civic groups -- has been very generous with contributions" to help take up some of the slack.
Because the $20,000 federal grant expires Oct. 30, DSS will use the government money for eviction prevention first, Ms. Kane said. The $25,000 private grant can be used any time.
"We had hoped to hold off using the private money until July 1, but we may have to tap into it sooner if we lose Emergency Assistance," she added.