Church-based, temporary shelter to move Sunday

But officials won't give location of next stop

Howard County

January 28, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's temporary cold-weather homeless shelter is to move Sunday, but officials won't say where - even for the one-week stay planned for the next stop.

Andrea Ingram, director of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, which is operating the shelter until spring, said, "We're not revealing the location" even though it is for only one week, because such facilities are often the target of critics who do not want one in their neighborhood.

The shelter will continue moving from one church to another through the rest of winter, she said. And Grassroots wants people who need a bed to come to the permanent shelter next to Atholton High School, not directly to the temporary shelter. People are transported each evening to the cold-weather facility.

"I'm leaving it up to the congregations to say how they want to handle [disclosure]," she said.

Several neighbors of Glen Mar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City have complained about not being informed before that church opened the shelter in a former parsonage Jan. 18 for two weeks.

"I didn't have a problem with what they were doing," said Terri Hicks, who provides day care for seven children at her home next to the Glen Mar church. "I did have a problem reading it in the paper without knowing what was going on."

She said she had no problems with the shelter since it opened.

Ingram said she has two more churches lined up to accommodate the 20-bed shelter over the next three weeks, but needs more to volunteer to house the facility until April. Private donors have contributed $11,000 in cash for the effort, including two $5,000 donations from corporations.

Howard County provided $2,500 to buy mattresses and bedding, and Horizon Foundation contributed $5,000 to pay for a professional coordinator from Grassroots.

The shelter at Glen Mar has helped five to 12 people each night, and given several people additional help finding permanent housing and medical attention.

"We've had children, single adults and married couples. One person got an apartment in Virginia she'd been working on. We helped one person get medical care for a serious dental issue. We're able to do more than provide shelter and food," Ingram said.

Howard's helping agencies have struggled for two years to find a place to consolidate and expand crisis services, including the number of beds for the homeless - without success. A yearlong process using a professional mediator is under way to try to solve that problem. Grassroots has 32 beds.

Meanwhile, Howard County is sending overflow homeless people to larger surrounding counties with more facilities, Ingram has said.

The idea of getting a variety of churches to volunteer for temporary winter duty was spawned by that need, and when this month's below-freezing temperatures hit, the Rev. Mary Dennis of the Glen Mar church stepped up to be first.

Although Dennis, the church's pastor of caring and mission, said she sought volunteers from among the congregation and announced the shelter at services, some nearby neighbors, such as Hicks, said they were not told.

"We're not cold-hearted," Hicks said, adding that she does not mind deserving homeless people getting help, but "80 percent of these homeless people are homeless because of the lifestyle they choose. They spend their money on beer and drugs and partying." Hicks said she doesn't want "that element in this area." She suggested a county-owned house on Route 108 near Centennial park might be a good location.

Ingram replied that the next location is not near any homes. The criticism, she said, comes from misinformation.

"The reason they're upset is because they have beliefs about homeless people that are not necessarily true," she said.

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