Army, county, volunteers plan emergency shelter Armory to be used in cold weather

February 21, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Poor people in Harford County who find themselves on the street should have a new place to escape the cold next winter.

County officials, volunteers and the U.S. Army are working to set up the county's first cold-weather emergency shelter on the top floor of the National Guard Armory in Havre de Grace.

Officials said the shelter would be used only in freezing weather should the county's traditional method of housing the homeless in private homes or motels fail.

"We've been working up to this for two years," said Joanne Cushing, coordinator of the Harford County Homeless Program.

The state requires every county to have a plan for sheltering the homeless in freezing weather, she said. Harford's plan has translated into emergency funds to pay for putting people up in motels.

,.5l "Each year we get more and more resourceful as to how we handle the homeless situation," said Ms. Cushing. five to 12 people or families a week seek help from the program, run by the Harford County Housing Agency, she said.

Only about one of five people who ask for assistance actually is sheltered by the county, she said. More often the agency contacts friends or relatives of the needy, who agree to take them in temporarily.

Otherwise, Ms. Cushing said, the agency calls upon members of local churches and other volunteers who regularly offer to open their homes to the needy. As a last resort, the program will shelter people in motels, with supervision by the agency.

"We don't anticipate even using this shelter," Ms. Cushing said. "But we got to the point where we wanted to look at it realistically and identify a site. It was very difficult to find a site with all the components we needed that wasn't being used for something else."

The idea of using an armory resulted from brainstorming at the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Summit last fall, said Stephen J. Kimlicko, director of the county's Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, who is coordinating the alterations to the armory.

The conference involved local church, community and county government leaders who held seminars on hunger, homelessness, unemployment and other social issues.

While the state has offered the armory space, members of several local trade associations have volunteered to do most of the necessary renovation, including rewiring, installing a shower and other plumbing fixtures and building partitions. Money for other changes will come from an escrow fund being established by the Harford County Chamber of Commerce for cash donations, Mr. Kimlicko said.

The 40-by-60-foot space is being partitioned into at least five rooms and will house as many as 16 people, said Lt. Anita Singleton of the National Guard.

She said the second floor of the armory, a historical building on the grounds of a former racetrack in Havre de Grace, now houses the Maryland Army National Guard's 1729th maintenance battalion, which will move its equipment to another part of the building.

Battalion members have volunteered to redirect a staircase in the rear of the building to serve the shelter and meet standards of the state fire marshal, Lieutenant Singleton said.

The Harford County Homeless Program will accommodate an individual or family in some form of shelter as long as a month, Ms. Cushing said.

She emphasized that the emergency cold-weather shelter would not be open on a walk-in basis, and that people would be sent there after screening by the Housing Agency.

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