Groups reach impasse over Harford shelter

Federal funding must be used within six weeks

November 14, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

With about six weeks to go before federal funding for a homeless shelter in Harford County is lost, negotiations between the county and a nonprofit group trying to find a permanent emergency shelter site appear to have broken down.

According to government officials and members of Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United, the county has offered the group a site for an emergency and transitional shelter if it abandons plans to open a shelter for eight men in an Abingdon neighborhood.

Pat Eiler, an FCCAU board member, said the county's property is smaller than the house they purchased in Long Bar Harbor, yet the county expects the site to serve as an emergency, transitional and day shelter.

"We won't move from that house [Long Bar Harbor] until we have a suitable site," Eiler said. "Our giving up this piece of property would jeopardize other houses of a similar nature in the county."

She said talks with the county have reached a "stalemate."

James Richardson, director of the county Department of Human Resources, who has worked closely on the issue for the county, disagreed.

"The site we're proposing would meet their needs," he said. "You're not going to get something handed to you that's perfect from the start."

He added, however, that "we certainly would like to see some other solution to the problem than the Long Bar Harbor house."

FCCAU's purchase of the Washington Avenue home has provoked a backlash from residents and spurred the county to renew its quiet efforts to find a site for the shelter. The county is the only jurisdiction in the metropolitan area lacking a permanent emergency shelter.

The group moved to purchase two single-family homes, including the Abingdon home, this year after plans to put the shelter on 10 acres of county-owned land in Joppa were scuttled by community opposition in December.

Eiler said yesterday that plans to purchase a second house were on hold.

In the midst of the Joppa site discussions, the county received a HUD supportive housing grant, which it assigned to FCCAU, for nearly $100,000 with the Joppa site in mind, funds that have to be used within a year, said Mary Chance, director of the county's community services department.

Chance said that if FCCAU fails to use the funds, "Harford County would have failed to meet its goals" for the year to provide more beds for the homeless. In the long run, Chance said, the county could see funding for other projects, such as Anna's House and Holy Family House, negatively affected.

Richardson said the county remains hopeful that the two sides can resolve their differences. "The offer's open and we're hoping they'll change their minds," he said.

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