Shelter to open with help from church, county, community

Howard provides $2,500 to help with supplies

Ellicott City

January 16, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After years of sending homeless people elsewhere, Howard County is responding to this month's bitter cold with a cooperatively funded, church-based, 20-bed, cold-weather shelter scheduled to open Sunday in Ellicott City.

"I felt called to be part of the solution," said the Rev. Mary Dennis, pastor of caring and mission at Glen Mar United Methodist Church, where a shelter will be established in a house that once served as a parsonage on the church's grounds. Yesterday, a stream of workers began delivering mattress, blankets and household supplies in preparation for the first arrivals this weekend.

Dennis said she took note of the results of a one-day county homelessness survey conducted in October that found the problem was increasing. She rallied church members to volunteer food, make preparations and provide transportation until Feb. 1, when officials expect another church to take over. A temporary winter shelter is to remain open into April.

Dennis said no church members have complained, despite several large protest meetings in 2002 in Columbia over proposals to build a larger consolidated crisis center in Howard County - with added beds for the homeless. An effort to find a location for that facility continues.

County officials are paying $2,500 for mattresses, bedding, diapers and health products, and the Horizon Foundation is chipping in $5,000 for a coordinator to operate the shelter.

Sharon Dawson, a county employee who purchased the mattresses and other equipment, said she and her husband have volunteered to do laundry for the new shelter.

"If you want to make a pot of soup, feel free," she invited other county residents.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, which operates a 32-bed shelter next to Columbia's Atholton High School, has turned away many requests - more than 300 in November alone, said the director, Andrea Ingram.

Now, when Grassroots gets requests it can't handle, church volunteers will transport the homeless to the Ellicott City shelter, starting at 5:30 p.m. each day. Those who sleep there will be provided a supper, a cold breakfast and a sandwich to take with them during the day, Dennis said. They must leave the house by 7 a.m. daily. Mattresses will be placed on the floor of the ranch house.

Dennis said she had experience with a homeless shelter in Laurel, so when talk about doing something in Howard turned into a call for help, she decided to act. "I knew we could do it. We have a lot of mission-minded, compassionate people" who have signed up to volunteer in the rapidly organized effort, she said.

County Executive James N. Robey authorized the county's expenditure and praised the effort, though his administration has remained in the background of the effort to expand crisis services in the county.

"Once again, the Howard County community has come together to help those in need," Robey said.

Organizers are asking for more help to keep the shelter open through the winter.

More shelter sites are being sought and donations of money and food are needed, according to a county announcement. Anyone who wants to help can call Anna Katz, Grassroots coordinator, at 410-531-6006.

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