Grassroots ponders new plan for shelter

Proposal would relocate crisis center and offices to add beds for homeless

Howard County

February 28, 2003|By Bethany Broida | Bethany Broida,SUN STAFF

Faced with stiff community opposition to its proposal to build an addition to its homeless shelter near long-closed Harriet Tubman High School on Freetown Road, Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center is seeking a different solution to its space problems.

The new plan is to move the crisis center portion of its operations and its administrative offices out of the current location and use the space made available for additional homeless shelter beds.

Grassroots still hopes to house the crisis center in a location with two other crisis assistance organizations - the Domestic Violence Center and the STTAR Center, which helps victims of sexual abuse.

The groups are working with Howard County Executive James N. Robey to find a suitable location, said Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots.

The search for a new home has not been easy. Grassroots and the other two organizations have been looking for two years. Each time a possible site has been identified, neighbors have protested.

"The new plan is completely responsive to the community fears. I understand their fears. I don't agree with them, but I understand them. So we are now responsive to their concerns," Ingram said. "We hope the community will support the new direction."

The organizations say they need a shared home because clients can get more services more efficiently at a single location. Police calls and emergency room visits could be reduced, they say. The centers also would share resources and conserve operating expenses.

More shelter beds are needed to accommodate a growing number of requests for emergency refuge. Last year, more than 2,700 requests for beds were turned down because of lack of space, and there is a waiting list for available beds. The shelter offers 20 beds in its family shelter and 12 beds in its men's shelter. The center also puts six families up in a local motel.

Previous expansion plans included moving the shelter along with the other services to another location, but no suitable location could be found. A subsequent plan to add a second level to the building also was rebuffed.

Proposed sites in Long Reach, Kings Contrivance and Ellicott City, near Maryland School of the Deaf, have been abandoned after protests from neighbors and community leaders, who argued that the proposed locations were too close to homes and schools and could place students at risk, affect property values and bring crime to the neighborhoods.

The idea to add a second level to the center was opposed by the Harriet Tubman High School alumni association. Alumni association members argued any construction to Grassroots would impose on the school site and noted that they want to use the site as a cultural center.

"The level of fear and hostility we experienced was pretty shocking," Ingram said.

However, the publicity surrounding the potential move has helped the center in some ways. Donations and gifts increased more than usual during the holidays. Grassroots shelter services have been in its current location for 15 years.

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