A group working to shelter Harford County's homeless announced Friday that it has purchased the first of two homes to be used as transitional housing for the working poor who do not earn enough to pay market-scale rent.
"It is very exciting," said Dianna Tilton, president of Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United, a collection of churches, civic groups and government agencies, of the purchase.
The home is the first in the county set aside to help homeless men, she said. Up to eight residents may stay for as long as two years. They will pay rent and contribute to household upkeep, she said.
"It's been needed for so long," she said. "I hope people will be open-minded and supportive of the cause."
Tilton said the group was not disclosing the location of the home until members had a chance to meet with neighbors. And, she pointed out, other transitional homes in the county do not disclose their addresses.
"I don't feel it's fair to draw attention to the neighborhood," she said. "It's not fair to the people in the house to have attention brought to them."
She said residents would be screened by the state Department of Social Services and have to adhere to strict federal rules. "I hope that some of them will come from the rotating shelter," she said.
Since 1999, the rotating winter emergency shelter, managed by 17 local churches, has been used to shelter up to 20 of the county's estimated 50 homeless men, women and children. Harford County is the only jurisdiction in the Baltimore metropolitan area without a permanent emergency homeless shelter.
Mary Chance, director of Community Services for the county, could not be reached for comment Friday.
But according to the department's five-year plan for 2003-2007, increasing the number of shelter beds in the county is a high priority. There are 28 emergency shelter beds for domestic violence victims. The county also offers hotel vouchers during freezing weather.
The county has 62 transitional shelter beds.
Pat Eiler, a volunteer with FCCAU who has been actively involved in the property search and purchase, said the need appears unlikely to subside this season. "With the economy being what it is, we expect to be housing and feeding more people than we ever have before," she said.
In the spring, the Core Service Agency, which oversees mental health services for the county, announced that because of budget cuts, it would not be able to provide motel nights this season for the homeless with mental disorders. Last year, the agency offered 1,400 nights of service.
Tilton said FCCAU hopes to purchase the second home, to house homeless women and children, before the end of the year.
A full-time service provider for the sites has not been named, she said, adding that the provider would manage the properties and offer job and money management skills training, mental health services and employment help to residents.
She said the group's renewed search for a permanent emergency shelter site has turned up a property in a commercial area where a facility could be built, although she declined to be specific.
"There's a lot that needs to be done before we can put a bid on," she said.
In December, intense community opposition led the group to withdraw plans to build a 38-bed shelter for men, women and children in the Joppa area.
FCCAU is hoping to raise about $2 million to build the permanent shelter, Tilton said. The group has received funds from the Dresher, Weinberg and House with a Heart foundations, as well as government money.
FCCAU is having its first fund-raising dinner and silent auction at 7 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air. Tickets are $50. Information: 410-273-6536 or 410-734-7333.