Operator gives up homeless shelter

Hannah More site likely to be run by Risk Foundation

April 27, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The operator of a Baltimore County homeless shelter criticized for its treatment of residents will relinquish control when its contract expires in June, local officials say.

Community Building Group Ltd. -- a nonprofit corporation that closed a separate transitional housing program last year amid similar complaints -- did not apply to renew its contract at the Hannah More site in Reisterstown, said a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.

Starting in July, the 40-bed emergency shelter -- one of two for families in the county -- is likely to be operated by the nonprofit Risk Foundation.

The foundation, which runs three shelters in East Baltimore, was the only organization to apply to operate the Hannah More program. If the foundation agrees to meet county requirements, the department will recommend that the County Council approve the contract, worth up to $270,000 a year in public money, said Maureen Robinson, the Department of Social Services spokeswoman.

Kathleen McDonald, president of Community Building Group, did not give a specific reason for the organization's decision not to seek a renewal of its contact. "We just didn't want to do it," she said.

McDonald declined to comment on criticism from the Homeless Persons Representation Project, an advocacy group.

Lawyers from that group have complained that residents at Hannah More have been locked out of the shelter, denied use of the phone for emergency calls, intimidated by staff and singled out for dismissal on trumped-up charges. They also maintain that the shelter's process for hearing grievances and appeals of disciplinary decisions is unfair.

Francine K. Hahn, an attorney for the representation project, said the Hannah More staff's approach is "demoralizing" to residents.

"They do not have an understanding of the population. The way they treat people is based on the premise that when you are in poverty, there is something wrong with you," Hahn said.

Johnice Powell-Lewis, a 30-year-old woman who lived at the shelter in January and February, said, "The staff was more concerned with terminating people than helping them. They didn't like me because I spoke up."

Hahn described the apparent selection of Risk Foundation as "a step in the right direction." She said her organization initially had concerns about some of the foundation's policies at its Baltimore shelters, but foundation officials "took to heart the things we were saying."

"We had a dialogue -- and this is how we like to handle these things," she said.

The foundation will meet with the Homeless Persons Representation Project if it wins the Hannah More contract, said Darryl J. Johnson, the foundation's grants administrator.

"We actually invite their input because for us they are an additional set of eyes," Johnson said.

Community Building Group took over the Hannah More shelter last summer after the YWCA of Greater Baltimore said it could no longer afford to run the program.

County officials were familiar with Community Building Group, which operated the Elan Vital Center, an Owings Mills housing and job-training program for the homeless.

Last year, Hahn said the Elan Vital Center was run "like a prison." McDonald blamed the closing of the facility on an "unruly and uncontrollable situation" in which residents defied rules.

Officials in the state Department of Housing and Community Development have not decided what to do about more than $720,000 in principal and interest that Community Building Group owes on a 1993 building loan. The corporation has asked to be released from that obligation, officials have said.

County officials want to use nearly a half-million dollars in federal grants to hire a private company to take over the program. With 20 apartments, the center provided 60 percent of the county's transitional housing for the homeless.

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