Board OKs funding for day center for homeless

$440,000 will be used to buy lot for facility

February 28, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The Board of Estimates approved yesterday spending $440,000 to buy a parking lot on the edge of downtown as the site of a permanent daytime resource center for the homeless.

Purchase of the property, owned by Shell Realty Inc., is the first step toward construction of the $15 million center, expected to be completed in about a year.

The long-awaited center, the first of six planned in the city, would offer access to food, health care and mental health assessments to at least 300 people. It will rise on the southeast corner of East Monument Street and the Fallsway, across from Central Booking and Intake Center, and be operated by a nonprofit group.

Mayor Martin O'Malley called yesterday's vote "a very important step forward" for the city's homeless population, which is estimated at 3,000 on any given night.

O'Malley noted the need for a day facility that provided shelter and services. "You can't round up homeless people," he said, "and you just can't give them a quarter and a sandwich."

Advocates, some of whom had criticized O'Malley's handling of homeless issues, applauded the progress.

"We've been advocating for many years to have a place where people could go to get out of the elements and begin to get their needs met," said Jeff Singer, chief executive of the nonprofit Health Care for the Homeless.

The resource centers were first recommended by a city task force in March 2000. In December of that year, O'Malley pledged to open the centers, amid a flap over a ban on feeding homeless people in front of City Hall.

Despite this year's mild winter, Singer said, the need for new facilities is evident at his group's offices at 111 N. Park Ave.

"Our waiting room is full every day because there isn't a place for these people," he said.

The center is to be operated by a nonprofit group. On Monday, the city will issue guidelines spelling out key elements of the center's master plan.

Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

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