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Homeless Shelter Budgeted for Growth

County Earmarks $1.5 Million for Project

By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page HO03

Howard County's only homeless shelter could get a long awaited expansion with the help of $1.5 million earmarked for the project by County Executive James N. Robey.

Under Robey's proposed capital budget for the county, the shelter would receive $100,000 for planning in the coming fiscal year and $1.4 million for construction in fiscal 2007.

"We're on a roll," said Andrea Ingram, executive director of the 32-bed Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. "Everything is very positive."

The project, which would provide space for additional crisis services and more beds for single men and families, is expected to cost $4.5 million. Ingram said she was hopeful the additional funds could be raised from private sources.

The proposal is scheduled for a public hearing at 7 tonight during a meeting of the county Planning Board at the George Howard Building, 3430 Court House Dr., Ellicott City.

"We're hoping for a quiet hearing," said Herman Charity, executive assistant to Robey (D).

A plan three years ago to construct a $6.5 million county center that would have combined crisis, homeless, and sexual assault and domestic abuse services under one roof drew vehement opposition from some neighbors of the sites proposed for the project. For now, that plan has been put aside, Ingram said.

"After we're successful with this, we'll take another look at part two," she said.

In the meantime, the county's sexual assault and domestic abuse services will continue to operate separately at other locations.

Under the latest plan, the Grassroots shelter and crisis center would remain in its Freetown Road location, next to Atholton High School, Charity said. County officials are assuring members of a group interested in preserving the nearby Harriet Tubman High School as an African American cultural center that the shelter expansion would not encroach on their plans.

"We're working with the community to make sure we have support for this project," Charity said.

With the steady growth in population and the rising cost of housing, the need for services for the homeless continues to increase, Ingram said.

"We're too crowded. People are staying in the lobby," she said.

Grassroots turns away 200 requests a month for shelter, according to the county. The demand for crisis services has risen from 381 walk-in requests in fiscal 1998 to more than 1,000 in fiscal 2004. Yet the shelter's counseling room often serves as an overflow space for beds.

Under the plan, the shelter would expand the space for men from 12 to 18 beds and for families from 20 to 32 beds, Ingram said.

"We hope to have a couple of emergency transitional beds," Ingram said, recounting a recent case in which the shelter struggled to meet the medical and mental health needs of a woman released from the hospital.

Ingram said she is optimistic that an emergency winter shelter program operated for the past two years by local churches has helped raise awareness of the needs of the homeless in the county. The project, which offered shelter to more than 80 people on a weekly rotating schedule over the winter, involved 18 churches and 3,000 volunteers.

"That's a lot of community education," Ingram said.

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