Shelter report notes abuse

December 22, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

Victims of domestic violence made up 42 percent of Howard County's homeless population in the three-month period ending Oct. 31, according to the first-ever quarterly report on the county's homeless.

The report, released this month by the Howard County Department of Citizen Services, surveyed the 213 homeless people who were first-time clients at the county's three primary shelters in August, September and October.

It found the percentage of domestic violence victims among the homeless to be 16 percent higher than the department reported Oct. 26 at the county's first summit on the homeless.

"I think we are just now capturing what has been a problem all along," said Stephanie Sites, executive director of the Columbia-based Domestic Violence Center. "That 42 percent puts us right into the national average."

She cited statistics from the private, Washington-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, indicating that up to 50 percent of all homeless women and children in this country are fleeing domestic violence.

This month's report was generated from the county's new homeless tracking system, which was established in January to provide a detailed profile of homeless people in the county.

The tracking system logs each client who seeks shelter or assistance from Grassroots homeless shelter, the Domestic Violence Center, Churches Concerned for the Homeless and the Howard County Community Action Council, which provides eviction-prevention assistance.

According to the tracking system report, about 56 percent of the homeless were single women with children. Another 21 percent were single women without children. About 60 percent of the homeless were children under 18 years old.

"That's typical," said Manus O'Donnell, director of citizen services, which oversees the county's shelter programs. "It's always been mostly women, with or without kids. The most common is a mother with young children. . . . They're the most vulnerable financially."

According to the report, domestic violence was cited as the reason for homelessness by 42 percent of the shelter clients.

Informal evictions, in which a person is forced to leave temporary shelter at the home of a family member or friend, made up another 22 percent.

Formal evictions also made up 22 percent. A variety of other reasons, including disasters and runaways, constituted the remainder.

Noting that this was the county's first quarterly report, Mr. O'Donnell said he was unsure why the count of domestic violence victims was so high.

But he said it may be due in part to the fact that the Domestic Violence Center, with 36 beds, has more permanent shelter capacity than Grassroots, which has 32 permanent beds.

Grassroots, a private organization, reserves motel rooms in which to house clients when space at its Columbia shelter is full. But last September, the county ordered the organization to reduce the number of motel rooms it used from 17 to eight.

The county's decision prevented the organization, which receives county funds for its operation, from running out of money before the end of the fiscal year, which ends in June.

But Grassroots also had to turn away 11 families in October because of lack of space, said Andrea Ingram, the organization's director. Ms. Ingram said she did not know how many of those families were victims of domestic violence.

During the three-month period of the report, 15 percent of the BTC families at Grassroots were victims of domestic violence.

Despite Mr. O'Donnell's suggestion that the report may overstate the proportion of domestic violence victims among the county's homeless, Ms. Sites said she believes the report gives an accurate portrait.

"We are definitely sheltering more people," she said. "I think the numbers have always been there."

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