Van seen as way around impasse Homeless shelter's new location at issue

October 30, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A shuttle van could be the vehicle to get through the impasse between the County Commissioners and the city of Westminster over a new location for the Safe Haven homeless shelter.

County and city officials were to meet today to discuss the shelter issue, which has been simmering since midsummer -- and erupting whenever a new site is proposed.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," said Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who sent a letter Tuesday to the commissioners suggesting the shuttle service.

The city would be willing to purchase a vehicle to transport shelter residents to and from the city to a site outside Westminster, and contribute toward its operating costs, Yowan wrote on behalf of himself and the council.

A shuttle would be acceptable, said Sylvia Canon, executive director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. (HSP), a nonprofit agency that operates the shelter and other programs. She said she wasn't invited to the meeting today.

"I don't think that it's ideal," she said yesterday, "but at this point we have to go for the doughnut and not the hole. Whatever it takes to work it out. We need to get on with it. It's getting cold out there."

The human-services agency secured a federal grant through the state and county to build an overnight facility because the property where the shelter is located on Stoner Avenue was purchased by Carroll County General Hospital in 1994.

State figures show that Safe Haven served 635 homeless people in the 1995-1996 fiscal year. The hospital has made no immediate plans for the property, and HSP continues to operate the shelter there.

"I believe -- and a lot of the people who live in the city believe -- that this is really a county responsibility," Yowan said. "I'm sure some city residents won't like us making the offer, but it's a way to show the county we're willing to help out. We need to move forward, and the county has got to do the same thing."

Westminster officials were content with the previous plan to build a shelter near the existing facility and clung to that idea at first.

But in July, the County Commissioners noted objections from elderly residents near that planned site and announced plans to build a shelter near the County Office Building, off Center Street and Route 140. That site has come to be known as Crowltown, for a now-vanished community along the stream there.

Objections poured in from city residents and Greater Westminster Development Corp.

With little notice, the commissioners released a brief, unsigned position statement this month, saying in entirety:

"The County Commissioners intend to construct the Safe Haven facility on county-owned property known as the Crowltown property unless the City desires to partner with HSP and assume responsibility for constructing the shelter elsewhere."

More than a dozen locations have been proposed -- and almost all of them rejected for a variety of reasons, in addition to local opposition.

Last month the mayor and the Common Council offered the commissioners three new sites. Although one appeared promising, it was ruled out by the end of the week.

The situation has remained "very much the same," said Jolene Sullivan, director of the county's Department of Citizen Services. The money, about $322,000, remains available to build the shelter.

In an Oct. 23 letter to Yowan, the commissioners listed seven other sites, but wrote that after evaluating the costs and locations, "It is our opinion the Crowltown site is still the most viable location for the shelter."

Of the eight sites, five carried land costs ranging from $290,000 to $850,000. No money is available for land acquisition in the project, city and county officials acknowledged.

But the number of possible locations could increase substantially if transportation were made available, said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works.

"You're looking at whole new possibilities, with a van," he said.

Canon said the plan might miss some shelter clients.

"It's hard for me to bite the bullet and say there's no way we'll be able to get all of them," she said. "These are not the sort of folks who deal very well with structure: It's not as if we can publish a railroad schedule.

"We're not eager to send the money back, as long as there's some hope," said Canon, who had considered doing that at one point in the impasse to force a resolution.

"They keep moving the site," she said, suggesting in jest: "Let's buy a train -- we have lots of railroad tracks in the county -- and we'll just keep moving it."

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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