Homelessness tightens grip on Maryland

February 04, 1993|By Laura Lippman and Deborah Overton | Laura Lippman and Deborah Overton,Staff Writers

A vicious cycle of homelessness settled over Maryland last year as more people sought shelter and shelters had to turn them away because of no room.

The number of people in the shelter system jumped 16 percent while the number of turn-aways rose 14 percent, according to state figures obtained by Action for the Homeless, an advocacy group.

The increase is especially significant, said Norma Pinette of Action for the Homeless, because it came in the 12-month period that ended June 30 -- well before the state reduced public assistance checks to families and single adults.

"For me, this says that even before the checks were cut [Nov. 1], the recession was forcing more people into homelessness," said Ms. Pinette, whose group planned to release the figures today.

According to the state, the number of people using the shelter system rose from 42,879 to 49,769 from fiscal year 1991 to 1992. There may be some overlap in these numbers, Ms. Pinette said, as a person is recorded again if he or she moves to a different shelter.

During the same period, Maryland's shelters reported turning away 43,688 people because there was no room, she said, up from approximately 39,000. This number also could include overlaps because one client could be rejected several times in the same evening.

Ms. Pinette said the figures suggest her group may want to revise upward its estimate of the state's homeless population, generally thought to be 5,000 on any given night. At least half of those are in Baltimore City. And, although single adults still dominated homeless services in Maryland, the state found that the number of families seeking shelter was up 8 percent, according to Ms. Pinette.

Families now make up 39 percent of those seeking short-term and long-term shelter beds. Children under 18 are more than one-fourth of the total number served.

The situation may be getting worse.

At My Sister's Place in Baltimore, a daytime shelter for women, the number of clients keeps climbing, director Mary Ellen Vanni said. In January 1992, 28 women with 48 children visited the building on West Mulberry Street. Last month, there were 51 women and 126 children.

At the YWCA Corner House on Franklin Street in Baltimore, where women may stay up to 13 weeks, the shelter has been turning away up to 10 women a day, according to supervisor Sheila Matthews.

Felicia, 29 and two months' pregnant, came to Corner House with her two sons three weeks ago. Her rent had increased but her monthly welfare check had been cut -- from $377 to $359, then to $309 when she failed to get medical check-ups for her children. She hopes she can save enough money to move into an apartment. "I'm going to have to, that's my only choice," said Felicia.

Tia, 20, who also is at Corner House, found herself in another common situation -- trying to stay with a family member but ultimately wearing out her welcome at her grandmother's.

"She wanted to live by herself and one thing led to another," said Tia, who has a 2-year-old son, Bryant. "Here we are."

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