Few Choices For The Homeless

April 27, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Kimberly Edmonds moved with her energetic 2-year-old son into a Baltimore County homeless shelter two months ago.

"I was upset, and I cried a lot," the 41-year-old former Rosedale resident said. "My son and I should not be in this situation. I would not wish it on my worst enemy."

Surrounded by trees and spacious lawns, the two-story brick building housing the Hannah More shelter on Reisterstown Road resembles a college dorm. The 75-bed shelter is clean and well-maintained. A nearby playground with brightly colored slides and swings helps occupy her son, Christian. But this is not home.

"I am the face of homelessness," Edmonds said.

Blanche Coady, supervisor of information referral for the county's Community Services, said she handles at least 25 requests a day for a bed in a county shelter. She promises help, but has had to tell many they must wait. Edmonds waited two weeks.

"This winter the numbers really jumped high," Coady said. "We typically would get about 375 calls a month. Now it's 500 or more." Demand for shelter has tripled in the past 10 years, she said.

Baltimore County's identified homeless population grew to about 6,300 in 2008, up 800 from the year before, according to officials. Nearly 70 percent of them were women and children.

The problem is "statewide, nationwide, even international," said Jeff Singer, president of Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore. In the first four months of this year, the number of newly homeless increased across Maryland by 15 percent over the same period last year, he said.

"The reasons are complex, ranging from job loss to apartment buildings getting foreclosed without the tenants knowing," he said. "If you lose your job, you can hang on for a while, but eventually you exhaust your resources."

Christian was born with several developmental problems that made it impossible for Edmonds to continue working in a secretarial job. She went through her savings and lost their apartment in Rosedale earlier this year. After crowding in with relatives for several weeks, her situation became intolerable, she said, and she started calling Community Services daily seeking help.

She and her son are among more than 500 men, women and children living in county shelters. At least a third are younger than 17, and last year nearly 1,400 attended public schools, according to the county.

Edmonds, who loves to cook, says she misses her own kitchen. She shares sleeping quarters with another mother and child. Christian easily climbs out of the playpen that is his bed. While the shelter staff is helpful and the other residents are friendly, they are not family.

Robert Quigg, who sees most beds filled every night in the three shelters he manages, has heard countless stories of hardship like that of Joseph Gannon, a laid-off truck driver who became homeless a year ago.

"It is a terrible, frightening prospect, no matter what the cause," Gannon said. "It strips you of all you have worked for."

While in the shelter program, Gannon said he could think clearly and get his life back together. He found a job and an apartment and has recently purchased a car.

A critical lack of affordable housing is exacerbating problems for the homeless, Quigg said. A minimum-wage earner can afford $341 in monthly rent in a county, where the average two-bedroom unit rents for $1,013 a month, Quigg said.

Edmonds has received a housing choice voucher to help her pay the rent, but has yet to find a landlord willing to accept that payment. "About half the vouchers are returned, because people cannot find a landlord to accept them," Singer said.

Edmonds addressed the Baltimore County Council last week as part of a rally for the homeless, and asked lawmakers to support more funding for social services programs.

"I thank this county for having someplace for my son and me," she said. "Other than that, we would be living in my car. Thank you for the things you will be doing. Everyone can do something to help someone who is homeless."

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