Schaefer criticizes conditions at shelter

Catonsville site too crowded, comptroller says

December 01, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer decried conditions at a Baltimore County homeless shelter yesterday and urged his state colleagues to find a permanent housing solution.

At the invitation of several churches who help support the overnight West Side Shelter in Catonsville, Schaefer toured the trio of trailers on the grounds of Spring Grove Hospital on Tuesday afternoon. During the Board of Public Works meeting yesterday, the comptroller complained that shelter residents were crowded together, sleeping in their clothes on floor mats. Bathroom facilities are inadequate for the number who rely on the shelter, he said.

"They weren't complaining," Schaefer said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I'm the one complaining. The place was spotless, but it's tough living and I would like to see something better."

The shelter, open from November through April, was established more than 15 years ago, when then-Gov. Schaefer mandated winter shelters in every jurisdiction. On an annual budget of $230,000, Baltimore County operates two homeless shelters, one year-round near Franklin Square Hospital in Rosedale and the winter facility at Spring Grove, where the homeless are transported nightly from a bus shelter on Frederick Road.

The trailers at Spring Grove can accommodate as many as 60 people a night, providing each a bed, dinner and breakfast before returning them to the bus stop.

"Our goal is a safe, warm place and two meals," said Richard P. Doran, executive director of Community Assistance Network, which runs the west-side shelter. "This is not the way I would design it, if I had the choice and more money. We are making the best of what is not a good set of options."

Schaefer said he would like to see bunk beds, a commercial kitchen and more bathrooms and showers. The shelter should open earlier than 7 p.m., he added.

"This is just sad to see, and I don't think it's a healthy situation," he said. "They need a permanent place."

Spring Grove, a 436-bed complex on 200 acres, includes several vacant buildings, which could be converted into a shelter, Schaefer said. But costly asbestos removal deters any effort to renovate the buildings, he said.

"There are good, solid buildings," he said. "We should remove the asbestos and use them."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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