Shoemaker House, Carroll County's 17-bed residential addictions treatment center in Westminster, is planning to move next month to larger quarters at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.
The move to a renovated building at Springfield benefits Shoemaker House by making it possible for the center to increase the number of beds it uses for treatment. However, it raises the question of how to provide shelter to the county's homeless during the winter.
For at least two years, during the cold months, Shoemaker House has served as a makeshift emergency overnight shelter for homeless people. Now, county human services officials must come up with a new plan for the homeless when the weather turns cold.
The arrangement with Shoemaker House was ideal, officials say, because the staff members took it upon themselves to take homeless people in off the street and offer them a couch or bed and a bowl of soup at night.
"In a world of tough problems, this is really tough," said Sylvia Canon, director of Human Services Programs, of the Shoemaker House move. Her nonprofit agency operates three other homeless shelters in the county.
The state requires each county to have a cold weather policy for the homeless, but no extra funding is provided to implement the plans. The cold weather plans must go into effect when the temperature drops to 32, said Jolene Sullivan, director of the county's Department of Citizen Services.
Shoemaker House, a brick ranch house between the Carroll County Health Department and Carroll County General Hospital, has worked well as an emergency homeless shelter because of its central location and 24-hour staff, Ms. Canon said.
"Ideally, it [the emergency shelter] needs to be where the people who need it are located," she said.
Ms. Sullivan said the county commissioners will have to decide how the Shoemaker House building will be used. It could serve as the county's emergency shelter, she said, but finding the money to pay for it will be difficult.
Ms. Canon said she plans to meet with the Human Services Programs board of directors to discuss the shelter issue.
"I know we'll come out OK," she said. "This county is really good at taking care of its own and solving problems."
Shoemaker's move to Springfield was prompted by a number of factors, said Carroll's deputy health officer, Larry L. Leitch.
Carroll County General Hospital is planning to buy the county's Health Department building, and county health officials believe the hospital also is interested in eventually buying Shoemaker House, Mr. Leitch said.
In addition, the Springfield building where Shoemaker plans to move was renovated about three years ago but has remained vacant for two years. Regan Center, the county's long-term addiction treatment center, was housed in the building but was closed because of state budget cuts.
If the Springfield building stays vacant another winter, Mr. Leitch said, the state will have to spend more money to repair the ventilation systems.
"We've got the unit [building] down there, and we don't want to see it go to waste," he said.
Finally, the state is considering starting a unit in the Springfield building for tuberculosis patients who also are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The patients also are likely to be drug-addicted, said Sarah Bur, the state health department's tuberculosis control chief.
Situating the tuberculosis unit at Springfield in the same building with the addictions treatment program would establish a "continuum of care," Mr. Leitch said, because many tuberculosis patients also need addiction treatment.
Ms. Bur stressed that establishing the unit at this point is just a "hope" that hasn't been financed.