Winter shelter challenge

Grassroots relocating for construction

churches step in for 4th year to help

November 19, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

As Howard County's permanent homeless shelter prepares to relocate this month, officials are trying to minimize confusion while preparing to launch what has become a vital adjunct: a roaming winter-weather shelter.

Both events - the temporary one-year move from Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center's old building next to Atholton High School and the start of the fourth year of the mostly church-operated cold-weather shelter - are scheduled for Monday.

The current Grassroots building is to be replaced with a larger facility.

"We are faced with a challenge," said Andrea Ingram, Grassroots' director. "I've already had a few people call me who have been in the [cold-weather] shelter before, wanting to know the details."

Jan Hansen knows the importance of the program.

A 61-year old former Ellicott City woman who has multiple medical problems, Hansen stayed in the church shelters for a couple of months two winters ago until she could get into the main Grassroots shelter.

After four more months, she qualified for disability income and now has her own one-bedroom, subsidized apartment in Columbia.

"I didn't realize how close to the edge people who are homeless get, especially if it is a new experience," she said. "The feeling is of utter hopelessness - that you're just not worth anything. It really takes you down to the absolute bottom."

Her experience in the shelters helped her to survive and to find a compassionate church, to which she now belongs.

Ingram said the cold-weather program, which shelters up to 27 people a night, has confirmed her suspicion that there are "chronic, under-the-radar" homeless people in Howard County.

Running the $40,000-a-year program will be tougher to coordinate this year, with Grassroots decamping to a cottage in Ellicott City on the old Taylor Manor Hospital campus.

Last week, contractors Frank Potepan of Catonsville Homes, Joe Lucado of Winchester Homes and Rich Thometz of Kahailey Development donated their labor, working to install two bathrooms and a kitchenette in the rented cottage, Ingram said.

Grassroots' professional staff members, including the Mobile Crisis Team, were to move Friday to a county-owned house in the 9200 block of Vollmerhausen Road in Jessup.

People using the cold-weather shelter will gather at the main Howard Transit bus stop each evening and will be taken to the host church for that night. They will be taken back to the bus stop each morning after leaving the host congregation at 7 a.m.

The cold-weather program runs for 18 weeks, until late March, and 15 churches are ready to shelter homeless people for one or two weeks each.

Beth Shalom, a conservative synagogue on Harriet Tubman Lane, is partnering with Locust United Methodist Church on nearby Martin Road for a one-week shelter operation scheduled for early next month. The church was a host of the shelter program last winter and planned to do so again.

Members of both congregations said the combined effort this year is a natural extension of other joint activities between the two.

Rabbi Susan Grossman said the two congregations "have a long history of interfaith cooperation," including joint services, Bible study, summer camps and community projects.

"The sense of mutual respect is very deep," Grossman said.

Alan Seidman, the synagogue's volunteer coordinator, said the shelter project also would give youth members a socially compelling activity.

Debra Wiggins, the volunteer coordinator at Locust United Methodist Church, said the church and synagogue members will offer more than transportation, shelter, food, laundry services and security.

"In the evenings, we offer meals and shelter, and we also sit with our guests and talk with them" or play games to help provide entertainment, she said.

Wiggins said she hopes to offer some of that help on weekends, too, and the shelter residents are always welcome at religious services.

Another coalition of six churches and synagogues that share the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center is preparing to provide volunteer support for the program during a week in February, said Rabbi Sonja Starr of the Columbia Jewish Congregation.

The Meeting House at Oakland Mills does not have sufficient space to house people, she said, but the congregations will help Kittamaqundi Community Church in Columbia, which has the space.

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