Residents agree to cold-weather shelter

Oliver group will help city with homeless site on `code blue' evenings

December 18, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The city Health Department and the Oliver Community Association announced yesterday that they have agreed to work together to run an emergency cold-weather homeless shelter in the East Baltimore neighborhood.

The agreement, announced at a news conference by city health officials and neighborhood activists, resolved a dispute over plans to locate the shelter at the Oliver Recreation Center at 1400 E. Federal St.

Community association leaders complained last month that city officials had not adequately consulted them before choosing the center, which will house homeless people on extremely cold nights that are declared "code blue" by the Health Department.

"We have come together in a partnership to do this," said the Rev. Robert C. Burley Sr., president of the Oliver Community Association. "The community's concerns with loitering and security have been addressed."

Burley and Oliver residents recently met with Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, and worked out a compromise giving the Oliver group access to the recreation center's second floor for senior citizen activities, Burley said. The group will also get office space to serve the homeless by providing clothing and other donations, a health official said.

In exchange for its cooperation, the Oliver neighborhood will receive more slots for drug treatment programs and free immunizations for children.

"Reverend Burley welcomed us into the community," said Melisa Lindamood, a Health Department official who runs the code blue shelter program. "We were very happy."

She said Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, of which Burley is a member, was instrumental in bringing the two sides together.

The code blue program started last winter at a city-owned recreation center on Pennsylvania Avenue. When that center was not available this year, the city decided that the Oliver facility was the best alternative because it had a kitchen that could serve warm meals, adequate space for cots, bathrooms, a shower, and private rooms for mental health and other services.

The city will staff the facility on each code blue night from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. with three nurses and police officers for security. Mental health, employment and substance abuse counselors will stay until 10 p.m.

A code blue night is declared when the temperature falls below 20 degrees, or 25 degrees with precipitation and sustained winds of 15 mph.

Typically, the city records 12 to 15 such nights a year. The shelter opened 34 nights last winter and served 3,751 people. Fewer people froze to death in Baltimore last winter than in any winter of the past decade.

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