County resumes talks on housing for homeless

Scattered apartment sites an option being mulled

December 21, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A Harford official said Friday that the county is moving to a new strategy for homeless transitional housing, and is talking with several service providers about their plans - including the nonprofit group it severed ties with last month.

James Richardson, director of human resources, who also works closely on the shelter issue, said the county is looking at creating transitional apartment housing at scattered sites around the county. He said officials are talking with other shelter providers, including Holy Family House in Aberdeen, about the possibility of expanding their services.

"We're just asking them to pick up the slack and add men," Richardson said.

No transitional housing - an interim step between emergency shelter and permanent housing - is available for men in the county, according to service providers.

The county Department of Community Services said federal Housing and Urban Development officials have extended this month's deadline for nearly $100,000 in supportive housing grant money that the county designated to the Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United (FCCAU).

The nonprofit group, charged by the county with the task of finding a permanent emergency shelter, was given the money to apply to a 10-acre shelter site planned in Joppa, that was later scuttled by stiff community opposition.

The group sparked a controversy this year when it then used some of the money to purchase a home for a transitional shelter in the Abingdon community of Long Bar Harbor. The move strained relations between FCCAU and the county.

The county, according to HUD funding guidelines, is obligated now to provide that unit of affordable housing in the county, and Richardson acknowledged that was part of what brought the county and FCCAU back to the table.

"We're talking very positively again," he said, adding that concerns about the group's plans for operating transitional housing are being addressed.

Richardson also said the county's goal remains for the group to sell the Long Bar Harbor house and provide housing for men, using apartment units.

Where and how many units the county might find is the subject of negotiations, he said.

Dianna Tilton, president of FCCAU, agreed that the tenor of talks has improved and said she feels confident that by the middle of next month, plans may become much firmer.

"We still own the house and have not made any announcement with regards to the house," Tilton said. "That doesn't mean that we won't sell the house if it meets the needs of the homeless."

Patrick McCarty, executive director of Holy Family House, which shelters homeless families in apartments, duplexes and homes in Aberdeen, said, "There is no immediate plan to change our current mission. The board at this time is entertaining the idea. Their mission has been the same for 15 years, and the need is still there."

He added that a formal study by the board is under way, but he said there was no deadline for making a decision.

The Rev. Francis Callahan, pastor at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air, said the loop of discussions on the issue had grown very tight in recent weeks. "There's been some back-room negotiations, but most of it's secret," Callahan said.

Richardson said he agreed that negotiations had been progressing behind the scenes. "This thing is something we have to work out the details quietly and the end result everyone will see ... as a positive solution," he said.

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