Robey hints at `progress' on plans for new shelter

Executive gives no details in meeting with advocates for homeless and abused

January 15, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's proposed crisis center is still homeless, and the county's homeless population does not have enough beds, but County Executive James N. Robey told social service advocates at a Columbia luncheon yesterday that he is trying to help.

Robey hinted about "progress" and said there may be "good news" in several weeks on some aspect of the seeming stalemate over the two issues, though he refused to be specific.

"I can't talk about that," he said after the 45-minute discussion with about 80 members of the Association of Community Services at Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

What the executive did talk about were the constraints he feels in being an advocate for a location for the proposed crisis center, which would combine services for the homeless with others for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

A proposal to build a larger, combined center to expand emergency services for a growing county has been mired in controversy for nearly a year, with several potential sites rejected after strenuous community protests.

Even a later proposal to alter the plan and add 18 beds to the 32 at the Grassroots homeless shelter next to Atholton High School has drawn vocal opposition.

Robey said county residents do not want anything to change. He said he recently received a large number of complaints about trees being planted by the county as part of a long-planned reforestation project. He said people do not want senior housing, tot lots or elementary schools - a national phenomenon that he cannot explain.

"Trees don't generate traffic. Trees don't make noise," he said. Robey said that because of that atmosphere, however, he is not prepared to try to force something on anyone.

"I'm not going to go out there and plop a facility into a community where we can't get a level of acceptance. I'm not going to jump off the roof. I'm not ready to say this is a do-or-die thing. I want to make this happen under the right circumstances," he said.

The executive said that although Howard's emergency services need improvement, he does not think the county is in crisis.

But others - such as Grassroots Director Andrea Ingram; Judy Clancy, director of the county's Domestic Violence Center; and Tom Schneider, a vice president of Revisions, a nonprofit agency that runs a cold-weather shelter in Baltimore County - said Howard's problems have outstripped its services.

"People are trying to make their problem fit into your service," Clancy said, explaining that homeless people who cannot get into Grassroots sometimes claim they have suffered domestic abuse to get shelter at her agency.

"We have 20 children who have witnessed domestic violence waiting on a list to get counseling," Clancy said.

Schneider said Revisions takes in some Howard County homeless people who cannot get access to beds at Grassroots.

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