Turning away the homeless Strict rules for shelter show little compassion in land of plenty.

June 12, 1996

PERHAPS NO ONE has done more for Howard County's poor over the last few decades than Dorothy L. Moore. Executive director of the county's Community Action Council, she has a long, distinguished record of operating programs that have improved the lives of Howard's poor. She has been an effective )) advocate.

So it was unsettling to learn that Ms. Moore had implemented a policy that makes it more difficult for the homeless to find shelter in emergencies. The CAC places homeless people in motels when county shelters are full. Unfortunately, the county council last winter imposed the most stringent rules in the region for people seeking help, requiring them to bring leases or deeds to prove they are county residents when they become homeless.

On a practical level, the newly homeless often lack deeds or leases because friends or relatives owned or rented the properties where they previously lived. Thus, the council is asking for documentation that many homeless folks can't provide.

In the past few months, the non-profit agency and the county's Department of Citizen Services have worked out an agreement to relax the residency policy. Still, critics say needy people are being turned away in an effort to rid the county of "undesirables."

Ms. Moore insists that local resources should be spent on local people, an appealing argument to a tax-conscious public. But the $43,000-a-year motel program is hardly a drag on Howard's $328 million budget.

One wouldn't suspect Howard of being a magnet for the homeless, with its costly housing and lack of mass transit. In fact, the county has the lowest percentage of residents living in poverty in Maryland -- 3 percent, compared with 8.1 percent statewide, and spends only 5 percent of its budget on human services.

The relatively few homeless people in Howard, though, are not unlike the homeless in Baltimore or any other urban community. Whatever the circumstances that led to their plight, they languish at the bottom rung of society, from which they can be helped to their feet, ignored or rejected. The least compassionate of these alternatives should not be the response of a county that, though grappling with budget constraints, is in a position to help.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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