Shelter opens tomorrow for single homeless men Howard had been only Md. jurisdiction without such service

February 08, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

With all of its 12 beds filled -- and neighborhood fears apparently calmed -- Howard County's long-awaited homeless shelter for single men will celebrate its opening tomorrow with a ceremony and a proclamation at the Columbia facility.

The shelter -- part of Grassroots Inc.'s 32-bed shelter operation in Hickory Ridge village -- will help homeless men find employment and permanent housing, along with providing addiction treatment, counseling in money management and mental health therapy.

"We really are trying to address any of a number of challenges a person might have," said Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots, a nonprofit social service agency. "We were the only county [in Maryland] that did not have special services for homeless men. We're sort of catching up with a need."

But the shelter -- which supporters say is needed to help the 400 to 500 homeless people the county serves each year -- was not created without stirring controversy among its west Columbia neighbors.

Last fall, officials and parents at Atholton High School, next to the shelter on Freetown Road, expressed concern that men with addictions and mental disorders might wander away from the shelter and endanger students.

Opposition softened after talks with Ms. Ingram. She and other advocates for the homeless noted that the 12-bed men's shelter is just part of a 32-bed shelter, the rest of which is reserved for women and children. The shelter also is adding a 24-hour staff.

Advocates also noted that Grassroots always has set aside four beds for men at the Hickory Ridge shelter. The eight new beds for men became available last week when Grassroots moved eight women and children to a county-owned house in Ellicott City, a move that had long been planned.

"We don't have any major concerns," said Atholton Principal Roger Plunkett, who plans to attend tomorrow's opening ceremony. "We'll monitor the situation and see how things go."

Atholton teacher's aide Barbara Poling said, "My concern was that it would turn into an all-male unit. Sometimes things like that can get out of hand. But as long as they have families, that sort of softens the facility."

The need for the men's shelter was highlighted this week when Grassroots was forced to make space for a homeless man in the Hickory Ridge shelter's lobby because the 12 beds for men were filled.

"When we have severe weather like we've been having, Grassroots will often put people up in the lobby for one or two nights until they can find more suitable housing," said Manus O'Donnell, director of Citizen Services, the county agency that oversees social programs. "We don't have as many street people as places like Baltimore City, but we do have a need."

The new men's shelter is expected to serve 50 to 70 people each year. It brings to 121 the number of beds available in the county for the homeless, Mr. O'Donnell said.

That total includes 40 beds at Grassroots, 38 beds at the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, 18 beds in the county's emergency motel program and 25 long-term beds offered to families by Churches Concerned for the Homeless.

Funding for the first year of the new shelter includes $68,000 from the county, $14,000 from United Way of Central Maryland, $5,500 from fund-raisers and donations, and $30,000 from money carried over from Grassroots' previous budget, Mr. O'Donnell said.

Ms. Ingram said the typical client will be much like former Grassroots client Randy Christopher Sands, after whom the men's shelter will be named.

Mr. Sands -- known to many county residents as "The Walkin' Man" because he would walk for miles with his right arm outstretched and thumb pointed skyward -- died in February 1994.

Mr. Sands, who had a mental illness, was unemployed. But Grassroots helped him receive social service benefits and his own apartment through federally subsidized housing two years before he died.

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