Federal program would aid homeless Baltimore Co. to vote on using $1.6 million over three years

March 03, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Saint, a former truck driver who has lived on Baltimore County's streets and worked odd jobs for nearly four years, says he's ready for a change.

Painting a York Road gas station curb for spending money last week, Saint, 42, said he landed on the streets after an ugly divorce and hospitalization for depression.

"I'm a hermit. When I got out of the hospital, I just wanted to get away from people," he said, adding that he wants a landscaping job and his own place to escape the stigma of homelessness.

He might be in luck.

The County Council will vote tonight on accepting $1.6 million in federal money to aggressively help longtime homeless people who might not be able to help themselves -- including some with psychiatric problems and many with untreated addictions.

Some of the money would be used to work closely with about 96 homeless people in a bid to get them off the streets for good. The rest would fund drug and alcohol treatment for about 120 other people.

Nearly 600 homeless people live in the county, according to a 1995 survey of shelters and other places that they frequent.

Many, like Saint, spend frigid nights in one of two county winter-only, overnight shelters in Catonsville and Essex. Others survive on their wits in their private haunts.

Those include hide-outs near abandoned apartments in Chase, along railroad tracks near Pulaski Highway, in the woods near upscale White Marsh Mall, in Pikesville's business district or in a cemetery near central Towson.

"I think [the new program] will be very successful with some of the people out there," said Terri M. Kingeter, the county's homeless services coordinator. But it won't work for everyone, she warned.

The money would be spent over three years, divided between those with addictions and those without, local officials say.

Grant to Prologue

If the council approves, $879,000 would be awarded as a grant to Prologue, a nonprofit, Pikesville-based group working to help the county's mentally ill homeless.

The money would be used to hire a supervisor and four workers to find and stick with about 96 homeless people, intensively managing their cases. The "Street Team" would be based in Dundalk and would have a psychiatrist available.

Stuart Kaplow, Prologue's board chairman and a Towson lawyer, says the group has been working with the homeless who are mentally ill, getting them into job programs at several state hospitals and trying to help them achieve stable lives.

Kingeter said the new program will have a wider focus, however, trying to get a broader range of long-term homeless people off the streets.

Drug, alcohol treatment

The county Office of Substance Abuse would use $713,000 to contract for private drug and alcohol treatment for about 120 people over three years.

Advocates for the homeless in the county say it's the kind of help for which they've been pushing.

"This is incredibly needed," said Grace Fendlay, director of ACTS -- Active Coalition for Transitional Services, a private Towson-based group. "You have to have treatment available when they're ready to use it. It's critical.

"We've been trying to bring this [kind of help] into the county for years and years."

Not everyone is so sure.

Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, questioned the expense at a council work session last week.

Kevin Roddy, county grants administrator, replied that case managers will "go out and engage the homeless on the streets, in shopping centers. We're talking about targeting the hardest core of our homeless."

Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, also has doubts. "Isn't it true that we don't have sufficient resources to pro- vide this for people who have homes?

Always with us?

"It always seems that we'll have this group," he said, harking back to "hobos" he knew in the late 1930s. "I used to put them in jail for the winter when I was a magistrate," he said, complaining that once again the federal government is telling the county how to handle a problem.

Ruth Schaefer, a county library worker who has helped the homeless as a volunteer for years, said she believes in helping even those who seem to have no chance.

"For some people, the best we can do is support them to help them survive and live. That's the bottom line."

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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