House of Ruth to expand into dilapidated building

November 06, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl and David Michael Ettlin | Sherrie Ruhl and David Michael Ettlin,Sun Staff Writers

The collapsing building has trees growing through the roof, is contaminated with lead paint and asbestos, and needs renovation.

But Carole J. Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, is happy to have it -- with a long-term, dollar-a-year lease approved last week by the state Board of Public Works -- as an addition to the organization's shelter for battered women.

With grant money, government help and private and corporate donations, the House of Ruth is planning a three-year, $3.5 million project that will triple the shelter's capacity from 24 beds to 72.

"The physical threats are more violent now, and the abuse is more extreme," Ms. Alexander said.

"We are seeing women at the shelter who have been burned or tortured."

The House of Ruth, in a 16,000-square-foot building on state property in Northeast Baltimore, is the city's only shelter for battered women. It is a haven that has proven too small to serve the growing needs of women who sometimes call for immediate help from a telephone booth, with young children at their side.

Ms. Alexander said the center must turn away two women and their children for every case accepted because of the lack of beds. Its ambitious plans for the addition call for not only extra beds but also an enclosed playroom, a playground and a parking lot.

The beds will be offered to women and children requiring immediate assistance, and also to those receiving long-term transitional help -- counseling and instruction in life-skills as basic as managing money and protecting themselves.

Roni Young, director of the domestic violence unit in the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said her caseload is a reflection of the needs at the House of Ruth, "increasing over the years consistently" as the problem of domestic violence has emerged as a criminal justice as well as a social issue.

Ms. Young, an assistant state's attorney, praised not only the House of Ruth's comprehensive approach to the problems of its clients -- legal services, counseling and transitional help in finding housing and jobs -- but also the "peacefulness" it offers to women and children who take refuge there.

"They have a wonderful facility," she said.

"I'm always struck by the peacefulness when I go into it, and what that must mean to the victims and their children."

The new lease for the 12,135-square-foot building extends to 2031 -- matching the expiration of House of Ruth's lease on its current space.

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