Offering families shelter, support

Baltimore County agency provides housing, training for homeless

April 08, 2003|By Alyson Klein | Alyson Klein,SUN STAFF

Twenty years ago, Dorothy Askew-Sawyer was on welfare in Buffalo, N.Y., juggling work, school and the needs of her young son. Today, she is the executive director of INNterim House, helping women in the same situation.

"I help them realize that you can do anything if you stay focused," Askew-Sawyer said. "It's great when they come to me and they say, `Ms. Dorothy I got that job.' Or, `Ms. Dorothy, I got that computer certificate.' I'm proud of them."

At INNterim House, a private, nonprofit organization with facilities in Owings Mills and Pikesville, mothers and their children find not only shelter, but the support, services and training they need to get their lives on track.

The Pikesville center opened in 1994, the other one in October. Together, they make up the largest transitional facility in Baltimore County, serving about 70 percent of the county's homeless families, the group says.

"We're looking for people who are ready to make a life change, who have the desire to do something positive," Askew-Sawyer said. "They want to go to school, they want to get a job."

Once a resident enters the program, case managers help define specific goals and determine what steps need to be taken to achieve them. For some women, this may mean going back to school to take courses toward a nursing certificate, for others it may mean working toward a high school equivalency degree, said Joseph Willmott, president of the board of directors.

INNterim has some job-training programs on site, including a computer course offered by Community College of Baltimore County.

"For some, the success they find ... is the first academic success they've experienced in their lives," Willmott said.

INNterim helps residents develop the tools they will need once they become self-sufficient. Life skills classes teach women how to balance a household budget and child-rearing classes show them how to bond with their children.

Substance abuse counseling and health services are also made available.

INNterim, which provides housing for 16 families, offers additional services for the children who live there, including on-site day care and after-school tutoring.

The group works with the county to find homes for those without shelter and to ensure that those leaving the program are aware of services available to them.

INNterim "knows how to help residents prepare for self-sufficiency," said Maureen Robinson, spokeswoman for the county Department of Social Services.

When residents move to INNterim, they typically begin living at the communal housing facility on Sudbrook Road in Pikesville. Once they begin working or have enrolled in a job-training or education program, they move to an apartment in the Owings Mills center, which serves as a steppingstone to independent living.

"We provide them with appliances, dishes, cleaning supplies, linens ... everything you need to start a home," Askew-Sawyer said.

Women usually stay at INNterim House for about a year before moving into their own apartments. Many maintain ties with INNterim after they leave.

INNterim is funded in part by federal and state grants, but also relies on monetary donations from the community. It also accepts donations of can goods, paper products and cleaning supplies, and it welcomes volunteers.

"We try to make INNterim as much of a home as possible," Askew-Sawyer said.

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