Down And Out In Towson

Our View : With Recession, Suburbs See Rising Homeless Numbers, Too

April 26, 2009

Homelessness is often equated with urban life, men living on top of steam grates or in alleys, lined up at an inner-city soup kitchen or mission. But the problem is confined neither to adult men nor to cities like Baltimore - as advocates for the poor in Baltimore County can attest. A one-day census conducted in January found the county's homeless population grew 62 percent from the year before to nearly 700 and probably many more than the county's 500 shelter beds could accommodate.

That includes more families with children than ever before. The school system estimates that about 1,374 county children are homeless - not necessarily living in the street or a shelter but lacking fixed housing. How fast the county's homeless population is growing is not entirely clear as annual surveys give only a one-day snapshot of the situation. But it is obvious that real estate foreclosures and the recession have worsened an already a significant problem, and the outlook is grim.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has pledged to spend $175,000 to hire eight more social service clerks, an additional $30,000 on eviction and emergency utility turn-off aid, and $250,000 more for the Maryland Food Bank next year. But more shelter beds also are needed, and the county's pledged aid seems insufficient given this reality.

As much as we have applauded Mr. Smith for fiscal prudence, county government should not risk running a deficit of compassion either. These are difficult times, and Baltimore County must not ignore those who need help.

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