First tenants at new Paca House are home for the holidays

December 24, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Lugging an armful of clothes, a few tattered boxes and a birthday balloon, Laurence Chapman walked through the red door of his new efficiency at Paca House, looked around and proclaimed it the best Christmas present he could ever hope for.

Homeless for the past two years, Chapman was one of the first persons yesterday to move into Baltimore's long-awaited, multimillion-dollar residential project designed to permanently house the homeless, veterans and the mentally and physically ill.

"I feel good, I feel blessed," said Chapman as he unpacked food in his new, fully equipped kitchen. "But it is a scary feeling. I'm not in a protected environment anymore where I had a curfew."

Located across from Lexington Market, Paca House is one of a growing number of single-room-occupancy residences, or SROs, operated in the city by private nonprofit groups. Project developer Volunteers of America Chesapeake is heading the social service program.

At Paca House, residents can stay as long as they want, provided they follow the rules and pay rent. The idea is that

tenants will be able to get their lives on track if they don't have to worry about where they will sleep at night.

"It doesn't facilitate the enhancement of a person's life by putting them into a shelter," said Gretchen Crosland, Maryland operations vice president for Volunteers of America Chesapeake. "But if you want to change people's lives, you need remove the concern of where they are going to live."

Tenants will be encouraged to use on-site education, employment and health programs to improve their lives.

"We want them to be self-sufficient," Crosland said. "And we want them to strive for their own place."

Most of the 106 residents who will live at Paca House will come as referrals from several agencies throughout the city. Crosland hopes that 95 percent of the building will be occupied by February.

The targeted population is the mentally challenged, the elderly, people diagnosed with HIV, veterans and the homeless. But other hard-to-house people will also be considered, said Aretha Lopez Craig, program director at Paca House.

Craig said that people who are referred to Paca House will have to pass screening of their criminal and credit histories.

Rent will be $373 a month for both efficiencies and single rooms with access to a communal kitchen. Many residents will pay far less per month because of state subsidies and welfare benefits.

The tenants will enjoy many of the same rights as apartment dwellers across the city, but they will have to abstain from drinking alcohol on the premises.

The $8.6 million, 45,000-square-foot complex will be in one new building and two renovated city-owned buildings at 106-120 N. Paca St.

Chapman said yesterday that after two years of being homeless, he is glad to have someplace permanent to lay his head.

"I got my Christmas present early," Chapman said. "You couldn't ask for nothing better."

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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