Carroll shelter for homeless is set to close after 20 years

Sale of Resurrection Farm adds to housing shortage

January 05, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF


An article in Sunday's editions of The Sun that reported that the Westminster Rescue Mission has converted its homeless shelter into an alcohol-rehabilitation facility should have stated that the mission keeps a reduced number of beds for emergency shelter. The mission provides three days of shelter to homeless men who have the option to stay longer if they are willing to join the rehab program.

A longtime homeless shelter in Carroll County that was co-founded by a priest who pleaded guilty last year to child abuse is closing, a development that is likely to worsen a shortage of emergency housing in the county.

Resurrection Farm, which has offered shelter to the homeless, asylum to refugees and protection to victims of domestic violence for 20 years, will close at the end of the month, according to a recent letter from the mission's operators.

The founders of the shelter, which is near Silver Run in northern Carroll County, have sold the 180-acre property to a family from Bethesda. The family is not expected to carry on the shelter operation.

The closing adds to the shortage of emergency housing the county faces this winter, officials said.

The Westminster Rescue Mission recently converted its homeless shelter into a six-month alcohol rehabilitation facility. That leaves the county with nearly 50 fewer beds for the homeless.

"We could depend on the farm to house as many as 13 people at a time," said Mike Ritter, deputy director of Carroll's Department of Citizen Services. "Its closing does have an impact, especially when it comes at the same time as the Rescue Mission transition."

The Rev. Brian M. Cox, a suspended Catholic priest who in the fall pleaded guilty to molesting two boys two decades ago while he was associate pastor of St. John Catholic Church in Westminster, co-founded Resurrection Farm in 1982 as an emergency shelter. A prosecutor has said she will recommend a six-year prison term for Cox at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for this month.

Judy McPherson, the organization's secretary-treasurer and another co-founder of the mission, said the facility's closing is not related to charges brought against Cox, who was arrested in May.

She said the property is being sold to allow her and Cox to retire. Both are in their 60s and were considering retirement before the criminal charges were brought, she said. Cox declined to comment.

Cox, McPherson and the organization's board of directors informed the Friends of the Farm, a group of benefactors, of the facility's imminent closing in a letter last month.

After its establishment in 1982, the farm's house quickly became a full-time shelter and the mission's focus shifted to transitional housing with a staff of volunteers who concentrated on the long-term needs of the residents.

The organization reported that it received charitable contributions of $99,149 and incurred expenses of $110,030 in 2001, according to the Maryland secretary of state's office.

"We have had good support throughout, including this past year," said McPherson. "But all of us who are involved are getting older, and the hours we put in were long."

Over the years, the farm has housed about 350 people, including several newborns, and the organization has paid for motel rooms for at least another 150, she said.

"We never gave people a time limit for staying," McPherson said. "As long as they were working toward a goal, we would work with them, regardless of their situation."

Volunteers for the agency, along with residents, farmed about half the acreage and cared for domestic animals. The property includes a barn and several outbuildings and pastures, wooded areas and a glen with a stream that often served as a small campground.

Residents of the farm came primarily from Carroll County, but many also arrived from Pennsylvania and Baltimore. They included entire families that had fallen on hard times, women and their children seeking escape from domestic violence, migrant workers and, in some cases, refugees from undeveloped countries.

The letter to Friends of the Farm states that the nonprofit fund known as Resurrection Farm Inc. "will continue the mission of helping people without resources who are in need of housing and other basic needs."

The fund will continue to provide assistance to the needy by finding motel rooms or referring them to other agencies "until all current and pledged donations are exhausted," the letter said.

"As long as we can and in any way that we can, we will help," McPherson said. "We have enough [money] to continue our mission probably for about six months."

The board of Resurrection Farm has found homes for all the recent residents of the shelter, McPherson said. Only a caretaker will reside at the farmhouse until the new owners settle on the property.

"Personally, this decision is very bittersweet, but it was time to stop," said McPherson.

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