Catonsville shelter will be moved to Spring Grove

November 20, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Bowing to community pressure, Baltimore County officials said yesterday they will move a Catonsville shelter to the grounds of Spring Grove Hospital Center by the end of the month -- a move that immediately raised concerns for homeless advocates.

The shelter, at the Banneker Center in one of the county's historically black communities just off Interstate 695 and U.S. 40, has for years sparked protests from neighbors. It shares a building with a Head Start program and an athletic club for teen-agers, said County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

"It opens at 7 p.m. and closes in the morning and the guests go wherever," Moxley said of the shelter. "That's part of the problem the community has had -- they hang around in the community."

But the new location poses a logistical problem for homeless guests who must walk nearly a half-mile from a bus stop on Frederick Road to the state hospital, said Bob Gajdys, executive director of Community Assistance Network Inc., a nonprofit agency based in Dundalk that runs two of the county's homeless shelters.

He said the location at a state mental hospital could discourage former patients from using the shelter.

"The building is beautiful and clean and a big improvement -- it has bathrooms, showers and accommodations that are much safer," Gajdys said. "The downside is it's a good distance in from the bus line."

The Community Assistance Network receives $72,000 annually to run the Catonsville shelter and a shelter in Essex. The facilities open Nov. 15 and close April 15 and offer cots and two warm meals to needy families and individuals from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. each day.

The average number of guests who stay at the Catonsville shelter during the fall is about 35 per night, said Gajdys, while in the cold winter months, that number jumps to nearly 60. Last week, one of the guests was a 78-year-old woman.

Gajdys, an advocate for the homeless for eight years, said many communities are hostile to being the site of a shelter. A 1-year lease has been signed for the Spring Grove center -- and Gajdys is worried about next year's location.

"I have had so much 'NIMBY' thrown at me," he said of the "not-in-my-back yard" argument against shelters for the homeless. "I want to find one neighborhood in Baltimore County that has enough moral and ethical fortitude amid their leaders to sit down and say we want to talk about helping our brothers and sisters in need. Find me one."

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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