City's 30 shelters filled to capacity Dec. 1 survey finds most have been forced to turn people away

December 05, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's homeless shelters are operating at capacity and have been forced to turn away people even though this winter's coldest weather is still ahead, according to a survey released yesterday.

The survey by Action for the Homeless found that every shelter serving women and children in Baltimore was filled and that most shelters reported turning people away in recent weeks.

The Dec. 1 telephone survey did not collect specific data on the numbers of homeless people being turned away from Baltimore's 30 shelters. But it found that many facilities are routinely operating beyond their capacity, said Ann Ciekot, deputy director of Action for the Homeless.

According to the survey, women at the South Baltimore Shelter for Women and Children at Christ Lutheran Church have been sharing beds to make room for the 53 people staying at the facility, designed to house 40.

"The numbers of people needing shelter are, without a doubt, increasing," Ciekot said.

She estimates that about 1,700 beds are available for the homeless in Baltimore, but that on any night between 2,000 and 3,000 people need shelter.

City officials say that the supply of beds for the homeless was crippled Nov. 8 when a ruptured gas line exploded at Franklin Street and Park Avenue, forcing the condemnation of the nearby YWCA that provided 73 beds for women and children.

"We just don't have a backup 73-unit shelter, so we were severely impacted," said Leslie Leitch, director of Baltimore's Office of Homeless Services.

Leitch said the YWCA shelter is expected to reopen in about 10 days.

Shelter operators say that demand for shelter has been increasing slowly but steadily in recent years.

"I don't know if there's ever going to be enough beds to go around," said the Rev. Charles Buettner, supervisor of the Baltimore Rescue Mission, which offers 188 beds at its facility at 4 N. Central Ave.

Buettner said that he has turned away about six people in the past few weeks, sending them to the Helping Up Mission in the 1000 block of E. Baltimore St.

"Turn-aways are just a routine part of life," said Michael Carr, who supervises the shelter run by the American Rescue Workers on West Clement Street.

Carr said that the shelter usually has some empty beds during the month of November, when the facility expands from offering six beds year-round to 50 beds during the winter months.

But this year, he said, the shelter operated at capacity throughout November, and he anticipates scrambling to find enough beds to handle demand this winter.

Carr said that the demand for shelter has been increasing since welfare reform legislation took effect last year, tightening requirements for receiving federal assistance. The law requires an estimated 10.5 million welfare recipients to go to work, or to perform community service as a requirement for continued benefits.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III is expected to release an updated directory of homeless shelters and a study profiling Baltimore's homeless at a news conference today, Leitch said.

City officials also provide cards for distribution to the homeless that list the shelters available, their hours, a map of their locations and an 800 number to call for help. The number is 800-817-4358. Cards are available by calling 410-396-3757.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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