New shelter to open near City Hall

October 15, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Baltimore's first 24-hour, year-round homeless shelter - two floors of the former city Health Department building on Guilford Avenue with a view of City Hall - is expected to open today at its full capacity of 275.

Single men and women - families stay on Mount Street - will be sheltered there until a permanent home for the homeless, the former city transportation building on the Fallsway, is renovated and ready, possibly as early as December 2009.

"This is the beginning of creating infrastructure as we build the new shelter," Mayor Sheila Dixon said of opening the Guilford Avenue site. "It'll help us get a sense of why they're in that condition so that we can address their needs. ... That plays into our 10-year plan to end homelessness."

The move comes after a year of transition. Dixon made addressing homelessness a priority, but as city officials searched for a long-term housing site, temporary shelters popped up in neighborhoods throughout the city, often with little notice to residents.

"There's no 'not in my backyard' here," Diane Glauber, director of the city's Homeless Services, said of the Guilford Avenue building. "We are literally in the backyard of City Hall."

Over the summer, Glauber and other city officials met with the Downtown Partnership and business leaders to update them on plans for 210 Guilford Ave. and for the permanent location, 620 Fallsway.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said residents and business owners had "a mixture of reactions" to the city's plan.

"Downtowns tend to have a high concentration of the homeless, and we need to work with the city to find constructive solutions to the issue," he said. "The people of downtown are aware of that and have stepped forward to be supportive of the city, maybe more so than in other neighborhoods."

Despite initial pushback from residents in Greenmount West, site of a 24-hour winter shelter, and other affected neighborhoods, Glauber said she has gotten positive feedback from community leaders. "We've proven that we are a good neighbor," she said.

Evening-only shelters scattered throughout the city are now closed. The Guilford Avenue location has been open in a limited capacity for a week and was awaiting final Fire Department approvals yesterday.

The city spent about $500,000 on sprinklers, fire alarms and other renovations to the building.

Army-green cots are spread on the fourth and fifth floors of the building, an area that until July was used for Police Department training.

Men and women age 18 or older can enter the shelter from Davis Street between Saratoga and Lexington. They can stay as long as they need to and are provided with breakfast and dinner.

Anthony Johnson, 40, hung around the fifth floor yesterday afternoon, watching television and talking to other men on a day off from his part-time job as a trash collector in Baltimore County.

"When I'm not working, I stay here," Johnson said. "I know me. If I was out there, I'd get in trouble."

Johnson said he is hoping to take advantage of drug-treatment, medical and job placement services available at the shelter.

The city has a $2 million contract with Jobs, Housing, Recovery, Inc., to operate the shelter through the end of June. One police officer during the day and two at night are stationed there, and police have stepped up patrols in the area, Glauber said.

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