Home for the holidays Paca House: Rooming house for homeless men and women opens in time for Christmas.

December 24, 1996

THE FIRST residents of Paca House, Baltimore's newest single-room-occupancy building, are moving in just in time for Christmas. This is a cause of joy to nearly 100 other homeless men and women who eventually will live in the facility as well as to the homeless advocates who fought for more than five years to have the $8.6 million complex built in the 100 block of North Paca Street.

Paca House consists of 76 SRO units and 30 efficiency apartments. Because it is almost directly across from the ailing Lexington Market, some area merchants are concerned. But as San Diego's Gaslight tourist district shows, even a large number of properly managed SROs can mix successfully into a neighborhood that is improving. The trick is tight screening of tenants and uncompromising management.

Paca House will be run by the Volunteers of America Chesapeake. That 100-year-old organization has established a good track record with programs that range from correctional facilities to services for the mentally ill and developmentally challenged. It runs nine different programs at 27 locations in Maryland.

The goal of Paca House is to provide more than transitional housing. With a staff of mental health and job counselors, the facility's goal is to prepare residents for employment. "We hope to make a difference," says Gretchen Crosland, a vice president.

The 45,000-square-foot Paca House is an architectural success, combining a former firehouse, a warehouse and a newly constructed addition into a harmonious complex. Inside are well laid-out rooms and common areas such as lounges and kitchens. Aretha Lopez Craig, the on-site manager, has years of experience and a master's degree in social work.

Compared to some other states, Maryland has been slow to embrace SROs. Funds have been difficult to come by. Because of its location, Paca House is a highly visible test case. We wish its operators and residents success.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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