Memories drive fundraising for shelter


As advocates for Howard County's Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center look forward to a major expansion of the county's only homeless shelter, some are driven by memories of people they have met who are in dire need, people unlike the stereotypical homeless person who is mentally ill or addicted and wandering the streets.

"Homelessness is a kind of subterranean problem" in Howard County, said Richard M. Krieg, president and chief executive officer of the Horizon Foundation, because it might be a single mother with children or any middle-class resident who has fallen on hard economic times.

Several speakers at Thursday's ceremonial launch of a fundraising campaign to pay for the expansion said Grassroots has shown that many can be helped to return to a stable life.

Barbara K. Lawson, president of the Columbia Foundation, who also spoke, said she met several people like that last winter, when she volunteered at a cold-weather shelter that moved from church to church from November through March.

Lawson, a veteran of the helping business, said she was shaken by the plight of several people she met in the movable shelter, which gave a temporary nighttime respite to those unable to squeeze into the main 32-bed shelter on Freetown Road next to Atholton High School.

One young man had graduated from River Hill High School in prosperous Clarksville, joined the Army and served in Afghanistan. Back in Howard County, he was emotionally troubled and without a place to stay.

A woman had five children, three of them students at River Hill High School, one at Harper's Choice Middle School and one at Clemens Crossing Elementary.

"There was no space for them to do their homework," Lawson said. One child asked her for a dictionary, and she couldn't find one. "There was no place for the children to change clothes in private. They slept in their clothes, and they had to clean up at the sink before school.

"Their mother had to try to find ways to get them all to school from an unfamiliar location," Lawson said, describing how the noisy shelter deprived the children of sleep to the point that the youngest child fell asleep in the car while Lawson was driving her to school.

"You begin to realize, up close and personal," what homelessness is like.

Center director Andrea Ingram said that since 1989, when Grassroots was remodeled into the current 8,920-square-foot building, the staff has handled 400,000 crisis calls and that the number of people walking in for help has risen from 20 a year to 1,000 a year.

"We're bursting at the seams," Ingram said. Last winter, a teenager was housed in the building's only family conference room for three weeks because of a lack of space, she said.

The current building was assembled from a wood-frame addition to a brick outbuilding of the former Harriet Tubman segregated high school, built in 1948, Ingram said.

Plans for the expansion are uncertain. The current building might be demolished and be replaced by a 20,400-square-foot residential-style building.

The plan is to have 55 beds in the new shelter, including three beds for crisis situations.

The board and staff of Grassroots have pledged $60,000 for the new building, Ingram said. County Executive James N. Robey and the County Council have pledged $1.5 million, and $325,000 is coming from the Horizon Foundation, the Columbia Foundation and the Rouse Foundation.

Joseph V. Murray Sr., Ascend One Corp.'s community relations director, pledged $50,000 from his local technology company at the ceremony, and the county is seeking $500,000 in state bond money.

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