Baltimore shelter provides care for children while mothers undergo addiction treatment

March 19, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

A few children whose drug-addicted homeless mothers have begun treatment and can't be proper parents can now live temporarily at Dayspring Children's Place, designed to give them skilled and loving care in an East Baltimore rowhouse.

The small two-story home on North Glover Street is the first of its kind in the city, according to the coordinating Young Women's Christian Association. Six children up to 10 years old will live there with trained staffers for about two months. Their mothers can visit but live elsewhere until their treatment allows more normal child-caring and transitional family housing.

"Many women in recovery told us two years ago they would have started treatment a lot sooner, if they had had a place for their kids," said Pamela Talabis, Dayspring Communities Program director. "These mothers can now feel secure in the knowledge their children are being given the nurturing and care they need to overcome a devastating crisis in their lives."

The overall problem of addiction is formidable. In fiscal year 1994, the latest year for which figures are available, 5,568 Baltimore City women were in substance treatment programs tracked by the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems of the city health department. But far more women requested help than got it and not all programs were monitored, a systems spokesman said. No figures were available on the number of addicted mothers of young children.

The first occupants of Dayspring are three brothers ages 2, 3 and 4 who have lived there since early March, and their brother, 9, who will join them shortly. Their mother, expecting her fifth child soon, is a drug-addicted homeless woman whose children have been with her at the YWCA's emergency shelter on Franklin Street and elsewhere for the past several months.

The YWCA is the "lead agency" for the sponsoring Coalition for Homeless Children and Families, an informal alliance of 30 public and private Baltimore groups begun in 1989 to meet the needs of homeless families, many of whose parents are substance abusers.

A modest start with six beds, the Glover Street house is essentially respite care for children and the first of three phases in a broader Dayspring program in the Patterson Park area.

Dayspring is trying to keep families together, prevent children of addicted parents from entering foster care and keep them from being raised in unhealthy situations, Ms. Talabis said. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. paid for much of the Glover Street house.

"It's a new start," said the director, explaining that dayspring is a biblical word from Psalms and Isaiah, meaning dawn or a fresh beginning.

In the second phase, starting this fall, up to six homeless families mostly recovering mothers and their children will live together in a renovated home created from three adjacent rowhouses on Mura Street. It will be partly modeled on Oxford House, a national network of more than 500 self-run, self-supported recovery homes including some in Baltimore. The France and Merrick Foundations provided the funding.

Within two years, up to 24 families will move into a larger facility built nearby on Mura Street to replace eight rowhouses torn down on Collington Square in a federally financed program.

"We find the program exciting, because a lot of these women living in poverty don't have any support, even from family members," Ms. Talabis said. "This lets the mother focus on her recovery, but helps keep the children away from danger. It helps make a change in the next generation."

The Glover Street house is rented by the YWCA from East Baltimore developers J. Thomas and Nancy Dowling, who renovated the home for Dayspring.

"You can rebuild the houses, but you have to rebuild the family structures," said Ms. Dowling, speaking in the same Glover Street house her grandmother lived in during a period in the 1930s. She is proud of its new use.

"Some of the kids around here might as well have been in Bosnia from what they've seen," she said. "The anger you see on the kids' faces is hopelessness and frustration. We're focusing on rebuilding the community and we hope this house gives them a lift."

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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