Clients may find it hard to get to agency Public transportation doesn't serve new Social Services office

November 09, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Having moved its operations from Ellicott City to east Columbia, the Howard County Department of Social Services is trying to figure how to get its low-income clients without cars to its new, relatively secluded offices off Route 175.

"This is a community built on the fact that most people are going to have cars," said Sam Marshall, director of the county's social services agency. "But there are people we deal with who don't fit that description, and we're trying to work out something for them."

Mr. Marshall said he hopes to have a public transportation plan next week, but he is still negotiating details with local transportation officials.

The Columbia Association-operated ColumBus provides bus service to the county's municipal center in Ellicott City, where the old social services office was located. But ColumBus does not go to the new office in Gateway Industrial Park, south of Route 175 and west of Interstate 95.

About 5 percent of the roughly 2,000 clients that visit the office each month depend on public transportation, Mr. Marshall said. Social services clients must visit the office at least twice a year to meet with their caseworkers, he said.

Grace Ford, 68, was among the clients who visited the new social services office yesterday. Although several clients said they drove their own cars, Ms. Ford, who lives in North Laurel, said she had to ask a neighbor to take her because of the lack of public transportation.

"If my neighbor didn't bring me up here, I wouldn't have had a way up here," Ms. Ford said. "I'm getting too old for all this foolishness."

The social services agency moved last week from the District Courthouse in Ellicott City.

Officials said the move places the office in a more central location for clients throughout the county and near other programs for low-income, elderly and disabled people, which were moved to Gateway in June 1994.

But the closest bus stop to the Gateway Industrial Park is more than two miles away at Dobbin Center -- a shopping center at Route 175 and Dobbin Road. Until ColumBus extends service to Gateway, those needing transportation will have to rely on Urban Rural Transportation (URTA) or find their own way.

URTA is a private, nonprofit agency funded by county grants and serving low-income, elderly and disabled residents. URTA riders must apply for the bus service, which provides rides free or at nominal cost, depending on a person's needs and income.

Most social services clients have not used URTA as a way to reach the agency.

During fiscal 1994 -- the latest year for which statistics are available -- URTA provided 305 round-trip rides to the District Courthouse in Ellicott City, including children who may have traveled with adults, said Janet McGlynn, executive director for URTA.

Social services officials say they haven't received complaints from clients about transportation problems because of the department's move. But they say they are concerned some clients may have difficulty reaching the new location.

"Transportation in general has been a problem," said Larry Hunt, program coordinator for the Howard County Community Action Council, a nonprofit agency that serves low-income residents. "Some people had difficulty getting to the old office. We just have to wait and see what the needs are."

Mr. Marshall said he is not sure how many clients will need public transportation to reach the new office, but he is conducting a survey among the agency's clients this week.

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