Ordered to close, I Can reopens next day

Officials, individuals and charities pitch in to bring homeless shelter up to code

December 22, 2006|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

A day after Baltimore agencies ordered a Greenmount Avenue homeless shelter to shut its doors, officials scrambled yesterday to help the facility's staff repair emergency lights and install fire doors so the facility could reopen.

By last night, the men's shelter operated by nonprofit I Can Inc, had fixed the problems identified by city officials and reopened.

The men's shelter, at the site of a former Catholic school in the 2200 block of Greenmount Ave., housed about 70 people before fire and housing department inspectors ordered it to close Wednesday, noting numerous code violations.

The Rev. Lonnie J. Davis Sr., founder and executive director of I Can Inc., was enraged at the closure and faulted city agencies for not giving him more time to correct the problems. Davis established the nonprofit more than 10 years ago and has a contract with the city to operate two homeless shelters, receiving about $700,000 a year.

But officials at the housing and fire departments have said the code violations - which included faulty smoke detectors, inoperable exit signs and other safety problems - were severe and the facility warranted closure. The facility also lacked an occupancy permit.

Yesterday, Davis said, in addition to the help from the Fire and Health Department staffs, individuals and charities made donations to help bring the building up to code.

But Davis said that while he was thankful for the support, he was still distraught by the closure. He said he learned last month that his organization was being investigated by the city inspector general's office for allegations of money mismanagement.

Davis maintained he has properly managed city money and blamed the city for trying to shut down his facility because of the investigation.

"I am optimistic but still hurt by the approach of this investigation," he said. "This doesn't deserve to impact the men. Can't you do an investigation open and honest and upfront?"

Messages left at the city's inspector general's office were not returned yesterday.

Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the city Fire Department, said he was not aware of any investigation and that the Fire Department's sole concern is safety.

"The main issue for the Fire Department is health and safety," he said. "We are working hand and hand to make sure that the place is brought up to compliance as much as possible."

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein visited the shelter yesterday and said he was glad to see the repairs made.

"Our shelter system is extremely important," he said. "We don't have a lot of extra capacity. In order to keep people housed, we need all the providers we are funding to be working. So when the big one has this kind of problem, we want to help out as much as we can."

This week's closure was not the first time that Davis was informed of problems at the shelter. A month ago, the city Health Department ordered the shelter's kitchen and overnight emergency program to close because of unsanitary conditions.

The 125-person capacity shelter operates four programs for homeless men, including a 12-bed convalescent care facility for the sick and a 58-capacity transitional housing program that offers clients job-skills training, work opportunities and substance abuse counseling.

During the closure, another shelter offered to house the sick population, and the city Health Department offered transportation for clients to an emergency shelter Wednesday night.

Davis said some clients also offered to help of the repairs.

"They want to move back," he said. "This is their home."


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