Towson's homeless shelter closes, awaits demolition Facility for men to make way for traffic roundabout

October 21, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Now Towson's homeless are really homeless.

The area's only shelter, which is restricted to men, will be torn down in January to make room for a $1 million traffic roundabout on the northern edge of the business district.

Until the demolition takes place, the two county-owned, storefront buildings at York and Dulaney Valley roads will remain vacant with only a reminder of the previous tenants -- a tattered black armchair sitting forlornly inside.

For the past three years, the little-known Joppa House has provided lodging and food to homeless men from Nov. 15 to April 15 when temperatures fell below 32 degrees or there was freezing rain. The shelter could handle 15 men a night.

With the closing, some fear the men will spend harsh winter nights outdoors.

"It will definitely have an effect," said Terri M. Kingeter, the county's homeless services coordinator.

The men will be directed to the county's two other freezing-weather shelters -- in Essex and Catonsville. Free bus tokens will be provided, but Ms. Kingeter is not optimistic that the men will use them.

"We have people who use Joppa House who won't leave. They're Towson people," she said.

Nancy Chilton, director of the Assistance Center of Towson Churches, which funded Joppa House, has worked to relocate some of the men to apartments. She said the center decided not to go forward with the shelter this year because it would have had to close for the roundabout project.

Ms. Chilton hopes that a new county policy to keep the Essex and Catonsville shelters open from Dec. 1 to March 25 regardless of the weather will ease the impact of Joppa House's closing. But a for few weeks before and after that period, the decision to open the shelters still will be made daily.

"For the homeless to wonder every night is very difficult," Ms. Chilton said.

Ms. Kingeter said many don't realize the growing problem of homelessness in the county: "They think it's a city problem. In the city, you visibly see the homeless sleeping on park benches or the sidewalk."

In the county, the homeless often are hidden, she said.

In Towson, for example, one homeless man lives in a storm drain. Others stay sheltered in woods near area colleges. They also are not as aggressive at panhandling as some of the city's homeless people.

"It leads to a perception we don't have a problem," said Ms. Kingeter, who is involved in the county's first study to document the number and needs of the homeless.

"We know where some pockets of homeless are, but we haven't even begun to look at certain areas," she said. The study, which also will examine causes of homelessness, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In addition to the two county cold-weather shelters, which are open to women and children as well as men, there are long-term shelters for families in Reisterstown and Arbutus, the Nehemiah House in Rosedale for men and five transitional housing facilities.

Last year, the county served more than 2,500 clients. It expects an increase with the closing of Joppa House and cuts in the state's Disability Assistance and Loan Program, Ms. Kingeter said.

"We are very concerned this year about it being higher," she said.

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