Planned shelter sparks fears

Proposed locations too close to houses, schools, critics say

January 17, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Plans to build a crisis center in Howard County are upsetting neighbors, who fear it might be too close to homes and schools.

People working to create the 24-hour facility, however, say they are confident that neighbors will be comfortable with the idea once they learn more about the planned Crisis & Support Center of Howard County.

The $6.5 million center would provide counseling and shelter for county residents who are homeless, runaways or victims of rape or domestic violence. It also would provide psychiatric emergency housing.

Two locations under consideration are in Columbia, near Long Reach High School and Hammond High School in Kings Contrivance. A third possible site is on the border of Elkridge and Ellicott City, near Maryland School for the Deaf.

"Putting something like that next to one of our schools shows a total lack of any sense of judgment," said Bob Adams of Long Reach, who is considering a run for the House of Delegates in District 13.

"There's a place for compassion," Adams said. "I'm not without compassion. But this doesn't belong near a school, and this doesn't belong in a residential community."

Adams, who said he would like to see the center located near Howard County General Hospital, was one of about 10 people who showed up at a Long Reach village board meeting Tuesday to oppose the plan.

Kings Contrivance residents have contacted officials in that village in recent weeks with objections.

In both villages, residents have expressed concern that homeless people staying at the shelter would congregate at the schools and the Long Reach and Kings Contrivance village centers, which also are nearby.

Both villages plan to hold public meetings on the matter next month.

The Long Reach meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Stonehouse in the village center. The Kings Contrivance meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Amherst House in the village center.

The third site is on a former horse farm on the northeast corner of Old Montgomery Road and Route 100. Crisis center organizers have "had some dialogue" with neighbors in that area and are willing to discuss the project with them further, said James Truby of Synthesis Inc., which is helping to plan the center.

Three nonprofit organizations have teamed up for the project: Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, the Domestic Violence Center and STTAR Center, which helps victims of sexual abuse. The agencies, which intend to share office space in the 33,000-square-foot facility, hope to select a site next month.

Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots, described the project to the Long Reach board Tuesday.

She said her organization operates a 32-bed shelter next to Atholton High School. Under the plan, she said, the shelter would be moved to the new center and expanded to 53 or 54 beds.

"We have a history of being a very good neighbor," she said, noting that Grassroots received one complaint about the shelter in the past 12 years.

The average stay at the current shelter is four months, but individuals could remain at the new shelter from "one night to one year," Ingram said. She said that people who stay at the shelter must submit to drug testing and have their belongings searched.

"It's probably safer than most locations in Howard County as far as being drug-free," she said.

Organizers are trying to raise $6.5 million to build the center, through a combination of foundation grants, corporate gifts and funding from federal, state and county governments.

They hope to break ground in summer 2003 and open the center in fall 2004.

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