Shelter to raise funds for expansion


As Howard County officials struggle to help two-earner, middle-income families afford homes, the number of people without homes is also rising, prompting a $4.5 million fundraising campaign to pay for expanding the county's lone permanent homeless shelter.

A ceremony to launch the financial effort is scheduled for tomorrow at the county-owned building that houses Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, on Freetown Road next to Atholton High School in Columbia.

"These people need our help," said Bob Fleishman, president of the Grassroots board.

The seven-year-old effort to expand the center has solid backing, with $1.5 million pledged by County Executive James N. Robey, $325,000 more from three private foundations, and bipartisan support for a $500,000 request for state bond money.

Baltimore architects Gant Hart Burnett have been hired, and campaign co-chairmen Steven Koren of Koren Development and Mary Ann Scully, president and chief executive officer of Howard Bank, are in place. Construction could begin next year, officials said.

But before Grassroots director Andrea Ingram can start looking at artist's renderings of plans, she said, planners have to decide where to put shelter residents and staff members as the work is done.

"We're working on relocation plans during the construction period. That's the urgent thing we're looking at right now," Ingram said.

The need for more beds is evident by the temporary winter shelters that have migrated over the past two years. Last winter they sheltered 81 people.

More than 200 requests for shelter are denied at the main building each month because of space limitations, and people often sleep temporarily in the only counseling room or in the building's lobby. Meanwhile, stays at the shelter are longer, officials said.

The center's last renovation was in 1989, and the building has no room to store furniture. It also is cramped for the staff, including the growing mobile crisis team, which responds with police to people in emotional distress.

The expansion should increase the number of beds from 32 to 55 and more than double interior space, to 20,400 square feet from 8,920.

Planners must decide whether to enlarge the building while people live and work there or to move to temporary quarters.

"We've looked at some options. We're looking at leasing trailers. It's fairly complex," Ingram said. "This is a huge challenge."

Ingram said the expansion will not disturb the high school on one side or the Harriet Tubman building, a former segregated high school that some want to transform into a museum and community center, on the other.

"It will be neighborhood-friendly," Ingram said.

The building will fit in a residential setting, although there won't be room for further expansion. "We will be maximizing the site," Ingram said.

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