Homeless shelter may open soon in Towson Delay in constructing MTA center lets church group act

December 17, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

The covey of homeless men who make Towson's streets and alleys their home may soon have a warm place to eat and sleep this winter.

The Mass Transit Administration has granted a Towson-area church group permission to convert an empty storefront near York and Joppa roads into a shelter for 12 to 14 of the county seat's homeless people. The permission was granted pending final consultations with nearby retailers.

The former travel agency is one of several storefronts vacated in a triangular plot facing the 600 block of York Road to make way for the MTA's proposed Towson transit center. Delayed by the state's budget woes, the transit center is now scheduled to be built in 1994.

"We have identified approximately 18 [homeless] men that are in the Towson area on a regular basis," said C. Carroll Miller, president of the Assistance Center of Towson Churches. "But we know from past experience that not all of them will come to a shelter."

The shelter is expected to open a week or two after Christmas and operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day until mid-April, providing hot dinners and carryout breakfasts prepared in church kitchens, Mr. Miller said. Before opening, the building will undergo some minor alterations.

Operating the shelter will cost about $9,000, Mr. Miller said. It is to have a full-time director and several paid assistants. A staff member is to be present whenever it is open.

The county civil defense agency is donating cots and blankets. Member churches will provide food, volunteers and other support. The county Department of Community Development is contributing $1,000 a month toward expenses.

Supported by 34 Towson-area churches, the assistance center has operated a homeless shelter in Towson with few problems in each of the past two years.

"We see a few changes in faces . . . and there have been a few success stories, where guys have gotten out of their problems and moved off the streets," Mr. Miller said. "But by and large we see the same population" each year.

Two years ago, the shelter was housed in a vacant nursing home. Last year it was set up in an unused elementary school's basement.

"We beg and borrow space on a yearly basis," Mr. Miller said. "We would love to have permanent space [in Towson] . . . for the people who regularly get help at the assistance center."

While there have been other attempts to transport Towson's homeless to shelters in other parts of the county, "nothing has worked well for our people," Mr. Miller said.

Numerous small shelters are operated elsewhere in Baltimore County by private, non-profit organizations, with some public assistance. Together, they provide some 250 beds, said Frank W. Welsh, director of the county's community development office.

In addition, he said, the county is providing up to $69,555 this winter to run two 25-bed cold-weather shelters -- one at the Eastern Family Resource Center near Franklin Square Hospital in Rosedale, and the second at the Banneker Community Center at Wesley and Main avenues in Catonsville.

The shelters are run by the Community Assistance Network. Last year, 1,504 people stayed in the two shelters, which open on nights when the temperature or wind chill factor is below 32 degrees, or in rain, sleet or snow.

The Towson shelter will open every night.

The proposal to set up a homeless shelter on Towson's vacant "transit triangle" drew some initial concern from Towson business owners, Mr. Miller said. Those concerns were addressed last week at the monthly meeting of the Towson Business Association's board of directors.

"After we discussed what we were doing, and how it would be managed, they became very supportive also," Mr. Miller said. "They see this as an opportunity for the men who sometimes frequent outside their businesses to be brought in off the street."

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