Thickets Around Homeless Shelter

August 03, 1994

The Howard County Council is about to wade into the thicket of disagreement over how much aid for the poor and the homeless is too much.

Specifically, the council will hear arguments today on the merits of a proposed shelter for homeless men in the county.

Grassroots, one of the primary shelters in Howard, would operate the men's facility with the help of a $30,000 grant from the county's Grant-in-Aid program. In addition to providing a place to stay, the shelter would offer services such as job training and substance-addiction counseling.

But if she is true to her word, Dorothy Moore, director of the Howard County Community Action Council, will speak out against the shelter today, arguing that it will foster dependency among men and should not be funded.

In doing so, Ms. Moore will be suggesting a parallel between the Grassroots program and the country's current welfare system.

President Clinton has pledged to "end welfare as we know it" by forcing women with children off the dole and into jobs. Ms. Moore's approach, at least on the surface, seems similarly geared toward promoting self-sufficiency.

But that's about where the similarities end. Ms. Moore goes on to argue that an alternative to the Grassroots facility is to provide permanent shelter to homeless men, so long as they are required to pay a reduced rent.

It is difficult, however, to comprehend how permanent housing at a reduced rate fosters an independent lifestyle. On the contrary, the Grassroots proposal seems better geared toward fostering independence because it is, at least theoretically, temporary.

Because it is only in theory that homeless men will not be allowed to stay at the Grassroots shelter indefinitely, the Grassroots option seems less than ideal. Being flexible about how long a homeless man can stay at the shelter, which Grassroots officials claim they will be, does little to counter the argument that the facility will foster dependency.

The Grassroots group needs to consider some adjustments in this area. But while fine-tuning the Grassroots program may prove difficult, that should not be used as an excuse to scuttle the project. The alternative to temporary assistance is even more unattractive.

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