Mayor Annoyed strikes again

December 05, 2005

William Donald Schaefer may have his flaws, but it's hard not to admire his ability to spot a problem and embarrass bureaucrats into solving it. His impatience served him well as Baltimore's mayor and as Maryland's governor. Well, it appears the veteran politician hasn't lost his touch. During a tour of a shelter for the homeless in Catonsville, he was back taking aim again - with uncanny accuracy.

What Mr. Schaefer found was a cluster of temporary trailers on the grounds of Spring Grove Hospital Center that have been used for several years as an overnight shelter. Baltimore County maintains two shelters to house the homeless in the winter months. The other is a year-round 150-bed facility on the grounds of Franklin Square Hospital. Thanks to a recent $1.5 million renovation, the east-side shelter is top-notch. The 60-bed west-side shelter, however, is not.

So, on his tour, Mr. Schaefer simply pointed out that the shelter's residents were crowded together; the restroom facilities were inadequate; people had to sleep in their clothes on the floor. "They weren't complaining," the comptroller later told Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare. "I'm the one complaining. The place was spotless, but it's tough living, and I would like to see something better."

Bull's-eye. As it happens, county officials would like to do better - and they say they can muster the $2 million needed to build a permanent facility. The problem is location. The county wants a spot at Spring Grove, specifically a vacant one-acre lot near the Wade Avenue entrance. State officials claim to be sympathetic - but haven't endorsed the idea. So the project is languishing.

Spring Grove is primarily a psychiatric hospital, one of the oldest in the nation. But many of its buildings are in woeful shape, and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would like to rebuild there, a process that could take 10 years. Baltimore County's growing homeless population - many are single women with children - can't wait that long.

As Mr. Schaefer would say, do it now. Setting aside land at Spring Grove will no doubt require the backing of the Board of Public Works, but one vote is virtually guaranteed. That would be the comptroller's. He can spot a solution when he sees one, too.

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