Pratt House provides families in need with place to call home

Opening ceremony held for site that offers housing to homeless

March 20, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Dionne Love knew the drill at the homeless shelter: Check in by 4:30 p.m. Leave by 6 a.m. and "blow time" until shelter doors reopened.

So when the mother of two learned about Pratt House, a former West Baltimore school gymnasium converted into a $5.6 million, 35-unit apartment complex for homeless families with two or more children, she moved on it.

Yesterday, Love, 28, watched as officials with Volunteers of America Chesapeake and other project partners held an opening ceremony for the building in the 1700 block of W. Pratt St.

She applauded the transitional housing "because the environment is better than a shelter, and it's your own. ... I love it."

Love, who moved in Feb. 4 and plans to stay at least six months, shares her two-bedroom apartment with daughters Kellye Wallace, 1, and Yvonne Ellison, 9. The 35 apartments are almost fully furnished and have microwaves.

Leslie Leitch, who is leaving as director of Baltimore's Office of Homeless Services, said her office provides services to about 25,000 individuals in Baltimore and 45,000 statewide a year.

Pratt House, where residents can live for up to two years and receive computer training, skill development and job counseling, is unique for the help it provides, Leitch said.

She said in the past three years, through her office and the efforts of organizations such as Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Baltimore has developed more than 200 units of transitional housing for homeless people.

"Transitional housing addresses the causes of a family's homeless situation and helps them develop the necessary skills and resources to live independently," Leitch said.

John Leonard, Pratt House program director, said the building officially opened Jan. 1, when he began discussing the program and accepting applications at area shelters.

Applicants had to be homeless or in imminent danger of becoming so, have at least two children and be willing to be part of a structured environment, Leonard said.

The length of stay is determined on an individual family basis, Leonard said. Rules - including a 9 p.m. curfew on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends - must be adhered to, and Pratt House has a one-strike-and-you're-out drug policy, he said.

Twenty-eight families have moved in, and two more are expected next week. Leonard said he wants to save five apartments for homeless families in which at least one member has HIV.

Of the Pratt House families, only one includes a mother and father, Leonard said.

A father of two, Larickus G. Coley Sr., 40, faced eviction from his East Baltimore apartment because he couldn't afford the $489 rent. Now, the former youth counselor and his kids live at Pratt House for $118 a month.

"I was grateful because actually I thought I was going to be homeless," Coley said in a telephone interview. "I looked at it as a blessing from God. I love the apartment. It's a lot of space, and everything's practically new."

"This project is more than just putting a roof over homeless citizens," Raymond A. Skinner, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, said at yesterday's ceremony. "It will provide ... the types of things that most of us take for granted."

Love knows she's fortunate to live in Pratt House with its amenities, including a shared laundry room.

"We never slept outside, but I would say [during the] days, we didn't have anywhere to go," Love said from her apartment.

A former employee of Burns Security, Love said she's trying to find a job so she can start saving to eventually move out of Pratt House and into a place she can truly call her own.

Sun staff writer Jamil Roberts contributed to this article.

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