Planned shelter site fought Residents oppose housing homeless on South Center Street

'Unlimited' aid protested

Commissioners won't consider new location without partnership

October 08, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Westminster residents urged the Board of County Commissioners last night to reconsider its decision to build a shelter on South Center Street and called for a new approach to dealing with the homeless in the downtown area.

Most people expressed sympathy for the plight of the homeless but said a residential neighborhood near Main Street is not an appropriate location for a shelter that would house people with substance abuse problems and mental illnesses.

"The street people are becoming increasingly aggressive and are disrespectful of public and private property," Laurie Walters said at last night's public hearing, which drew about 130 people to the Senior Activities Center on Stoner Avenue.

"I do not feel that we as taxpayers can continue to fund unlimited assistance [to the homeless] with nothing in return," Walters said. "Westminster has become known as the place to send street people. A responsible plan must be developed before more money is spent."

The commissioners announced last week that they intended to move the Safe Haven shelter from Stoner Avenue to county-owned property at South Center Street and Route 140, near the county administration building. City officials and some residents vehemently oppose the location. But the commissioners said they would not consider another location unless Westminster entered into a partnership with Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. to build the shelter elsewhere.

The Safe Haven shelter opened on Stoner Avenue in November 1994. It differs from the other homeless shelters run by Human Services Programs in that residents aren't required to go to work, go to school or obtain drug counseling. The shelter has a capacity of 25 and is usually full.

The average shelter client is a 38-year-old male substance abuser with a mental illness. Safe Haven offers counseling and medication supervision under the direction of a psychiatrist. Caseworkers try to link residents with health care and transportation.

In recent months, the move of the Safe Haven shelter has been a source of contention between county and city officials. Westminster officials have expressed frustration with the commissioners' shifts in position regarding the shelter site.

"The controversy surrounding the Safe Haven shelter has been stirred to the near boiling point and fears have been raised to levels that are completely unfounded," Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said last night.

"The situation we have serves no one, not the city, the county, not the citizens and not those who we're ostensibly trying to help."

Yowan invited the county planning staff to meet today with Westminster's planning staff and representatives from Human Services Programs to "come up with solutions we can live with."

"I see no reason why this can't be solved within a week at the most, if we all work together," he said.

The prompt selection of an alternative shelter site is critical, county officials have said, because a $1.2 million federal grant to build and operate the shelter might be in jeopardy.

Westminster officials had been working with the commissioners for nearly a year on plans to move the Safe Haven homeless shelter to county-owned land nearby, next to the Senior Activities Center on Stoner Avenue.

Yowan said he learned two months ago that the commissioners had abandoned the Stoner Avenue site and were planning to put the center on the county-owned Crowlton property on South Center Street.

Two weeks ago, Westminster officials thought they were close to reaching an agreement with the county that would have put the shelter on an old wastewater treatment site the city owns on Goodwin's Quarry Road.

More than 75 residents from the Goodwin's Quarry community attended last night's hearing, wearing bright orange stickers reading: "No Safe Haven on Goodwin's Quarry."

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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