Church parsonage being renovated as city shelter for at-risk juveniles

East-side site to house 15 male youths, expects to open early next year

October 09, 2003|By Matt Whittaker | Matt Whittaker,SUN STAFF

On Gay Street in Baltimore, state officials have just put the finishing touches on a new juvenile jail. But several blocks away, public and private donors just broke ground on a juvenile facility of a different kind - a youth shelter aiming to keep kids out of trouble.

The choice, say the organizers of the shelter, is between two sets of doors - one with bars and the other without.

"Our intention really is to keep people from the juvenile justice system," Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. said this week at a groundbreaking ceremony for the youth shelter. "Locking these kids up is not the best resolution for these kids."

Renovations began yesterday on a church parsonage owned by Centennial-Caroline Street United Methodist Church that will become the city's first around-the-clock shelter designed to keep inner-city youths from entering the 240,000- square-feet youth correction facility.

Sparked by an idea within the Baltimore Police Department, Aunt CC's Harbor House Shelter at East Monument and Stirling streets is scheduled to open early next year and will house 15 "at-risk" males between ages 11 and 17 for an average of 30 days.

The shelter's backers include the Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families; the Family League of Baltimore City; the North American Family Institute; and the Abell Foundation. The renovations will cost about $400,000.

Aunt CC's will operate 24 hours a day every day of the year and aims to keep at-risk youth from roaming the streets in the middle of the night.

While the shelter is being promoted by state officials and others, not everyone is happy about the addition to their neighborhood.

Ruby Glover, a member of the Stirling Street Association and resident of the 600 block of the street, signed a petition against the shelter and said she is worried about vandalism and that the children will not be properly supervised.

"I'm not against children," she said. "I want children to be properly supervised."

But proponents of the shelter say there will be plenty of supervision, and the benefits to the community outweigh the risks.

The capacity of the shelter pales with that of the detention facility, which can hold up to 144 young people, but Adam Walinsky, founder of the National Police Corps, said it's not the numbers that are important for the shelter.

"Don't think that this is some magic solution," said Walinsky, who also is president of the Center for Research on Institutions and Social Policy. "But this is a place where you can hope to contribute to saving them. This is better than the streets and much better than a juvenile facility."

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said the at-risk children - who will be referred to the shelter by the city's Departments of Juvenile Services and Social Services - are "just below" criminal behavior and may come from homes where parents don't want them around or can't control them.

According to the nonprofit North American Family Institute, which will lease the building from the church, the shelter will provide a homelike setting. Youths will be taught the do's and don'ts of personal hygiene, wearing hats indoors and helping with household chores.

The children will also participate in community service projects and be expected to attend school.

"We would be serving kids in the shelter that need stability, that need a safe haven because of abuse and neglect," said Deborah Yates, a NAFI supervisor, adding that the youths may have suffered from abandonment, have fallen into the wrong peer group or may be truants.

Kids referred by the Department of Juvenile Services will have had entry into the juvenile justice system and may have pending charges, she said.

Security will be provided primarily by staff, Yates said.

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