Harford urged to set up homeless shelter

January 06, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A group of local religious leaders called on Harford County officials yesterday to establish a homeless shelter, even as they vowed to continue using church buildings as temporary shelters during the next two months.

In the absence of a shelter, a coalition of 14 churches from throughout the county is offering beds for the homeless on a rotating basis during what typically are the coldest weeks of the winter, from Dec. 18 to March 15.

The group criticized the county's homeless policy, which provides motel vouchers in the U.S. 40 corridor without supervision.

Mary Chance, director of Harford County's Department of Community Services, said officials are looking into a possible, permanent shelter.

"We are really happy to see the churches come together to raise awareness of this issue," she said. "Government can't do this alone."

Members of the church coalition, who gathered at St. Margaret's yesterday, said the growing county of more than 200,000 is the only jurisdiction in the Baltimore area without a homeless shelter.

The Rev. Stephen Gosnell of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Edgewood said more services are needed for Harford's homeless.

"Everyone thinks Bel Air is such an affluent area, but you do see people sitting on benches with their belongings surrounding them," Gosnell said.

Mel Eisenstein, supervisor of adult services with Harford County's Department of Social Services, said officials estimate that 170 individuals needed temporary homeless shelter last year, and that some of those people were provided shelter more than once.

"We gave shelter, but no services," said Eisenstein. Officials said the homeless are directed to the social services department, which provides transportation to area motels.

Church leaders said yesterday that they would like to see a permanent program that would help the homeless find employment and help for substance abuse.

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