Closure of job-training center delayed a month to allow women to find housing

Program officials respond to Balto. County request

October 28, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The Elan Vital Center, an Owings Mills job-training program for homeless women that had been scheduled to close tomorrowamid complaints that it is run "like a prison," will remain open for another month to let residents find housing, the program's operator said yesterday.

Baltimore County social services officials, who have scrambled to find homes for the women since the planned closing was announced two weeks ago, had asked officials at the taxpayer-funded program to postpone the closing.

Kathleen McDonald, president of Community Building Group Ltd., the nonprofit corporation that operates Elan Vital, said she had agreed to wait until Nov. 29 to close.

"We're trying to be as accommodating as we can be," McDonald said.

Some preparing to move

All but one of the 17 women remaining at the program have received federal vouchers for rental assistance, and about half are preparing to move into apartments, said Maureen Robinson, spokeswoman for the county Department of Social Services.

Government officials are looking into whether grant packages, along with the center's lease for buildings on state property, would allow another organization to take over the Elan Vital program, Robinson said.

Officials at three homeless-services organizations have said they are interested:

Community Assistance Network, a Dundalk-based program that for several years ran cold-weather shelters in the county, and whose services to the poor include assistance for food and rent.

Risk Foundation, which operates four transitional housing centers for men and women in Baltimore City.

The YWCA of Greater Baltimore, which runs a job training center in Glen Burnie and shelters in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

In August, lawyers from the Homeless Persons Representation Project began investigating complaints that Elan Vital officials had illegally evicted women from their apartments, had forced women to perform manual labor as punishment and failed to deliver promised services.

Oct. 14 announcement

County, state and federal officials were reviewing similar complaints when they received Elan Vital's Oct. 14 announcement that it was closing.

McDonald said the center is closing because challenges to its policies had led to an "unruly and uncontrollable situation" in which residents defy rules.

Francine K. Hahn, attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said yesterday her office represents 10 women at the center.

Hahn said Elan Vital officials have used "fear and intimidation" to control program participants.

"It is run like a prison," the attorney said.

She said her clients told her that Elan Vital officials have removed many of the computers from its job-training program. "Are they bringing them back?" she asked.

Hahn called for government officials to audit Elan Vital.

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