Ecker planning summit on homelessness Religious groups, businesses invited

October 06, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

In response to the growing number of homeless people in Howard County, County Executive Charles I. Ecker is organizing a summit of local businesses, religious organizations and community groups to help solve the problem.

The Republican county executive has asked County Council members to co-sponsor the summit with him at the end of the month. He plans to set a date after hearing from council members about whether they will co-sponsor the event.

Mr. Ecker said he wants suggestions on ways to solve Howard's homeless problems and make the community more aware of the issue. "We can't take care of the homeless" beyond the $891,700 allotted by the county in May, the county executive said.

Of the county's 209,000 people, an estimated 700 are homeless, about 100 more than last year, said Manus O'Donnell, director of the county's Department of Citizen Services.

The state has about 50,000 homeless people, according to figures for fiscal 1992, which ended in June 1992, the most recent figures available from Action for the Homeless, a state organization for the homeless. That was 16 percent more than in fiscal 1991.

Last week, the county ordered Grassroots, one of the county's primary shelter organizations, to stop accepting new clients for its emergency motel shelter program because of a lack of funds.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she is waiting to hear from other members of the council before confirming the council's support of the summit.

She said she supports Mr. Ecker's plan but that steps are needed to help the homeless -- such as donations of food and other supplies -- rather than just talk at a summit.

"I don't know that a forum is going to solve the problem," she said.

Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, initiated the summit by appealing to Mr. Ecker for assistance when the group saw that it was running out of funds.

She said she hopes some Howard County churches or other organizations will agree at the summit to take care of some of the homeless in their facilities.

"I would hope that we would get people here that would say, 'This is what we can do right now,' " she said. "That's what I'm hoping for, some real help."

Grassroots has used up nearly half of the $61,353 allotted for the motel shelter program, which provides temporary shelter for the homeless when the organization's 32-bed shelter in Columbia is full. The funds were supposed to provide assistance for up to 24 people for the fiscal year that started July 1 and ends June 30, 1994.

But as of last week, Grassroots had had to house 34 more clients than it had planned to, because of a no-turn-away policy, Ms. Ingram said. It would take an additional

$60,000 a year to continue providing motel rooms without any restrictions.

When Grassroots reduces the number of motel rooms in use from 17 to eight, which the agency must do by Dec. 1 or run out of money, the organization can begin accepting new clients again.

Until then, 20 to 30 homeless people a month might be turned away from the program. Some homeless people have slept on the couch in the lobby of Grassroots' Columbia shelter because of crowding.

In the past, Howard homeless shelters have shared facilities with other counties, depending on which counties had vacancies. But the growing homelessness problem throughout the state has made it difficult to continue that space-sharing.

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