Forty years ago, the man with the cataract that clouds one eye and the burn scars that streak purple down both legs recalled, he was a dishwasher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's annex in Forest Glen. Yesterday, he was one of the first to call an old barracks there home.
"I'm out. That's it," said Howell, a 56-year-old truck driver who declined to reveal his full name. "And if I hadn't had this, maybe I would have slept in a car somewhere."
Montgomery County's newest shelter for the homeless opened its doors in the Silver Spring neighborhood last night to a dozen men, despite complaints from some residents in the area that a commitment to provide security had not been met.
The opening came two weeks before county officials expect to get the formal state approval needed for county police to make arrests at the shelter, which is in the federally owned Army building. The Maryland Board of Public Works is expected to vote Dec. 12 on the request to place the 20-bed shelter under the jurisdiction of local, as well as federal, authorities.
Until that time, county officials, who acknowledged they were anxious to open the shelter in anticipation of cold weather, said the Army and county police are working together on security problems.
"We have taken every precaution we can take," said Army spokesman Charles Jackson. "The county has added extra police patrols" in nearby communities "and we have added an MP. There should be no problems."
The shelter in Forest Glen was approved in early October after 18 months of negotiations among the Army, county government and neighborhood residents, some of whom argued that it should not be there because of security problems.
Many area residents were angered by the decision to open the shelter without local police having jurisdiction -- particularly because such police protection is called for in a just-signed contract between the Army and the county.
"I hope this isn't the beginning of a mistrustful relationship," said Lewis Gollub, a member of the citizen's advisory committee that was formed after the shelter was approved to work with the county. "Obviously, we are not happy."
County officials said the decision to open the center was made after all repairs and renovations to the former military police barracks were completed and when approval of the police jurisdiction request seemed imminent.
"Since the center was almost complete, and since it is very cold, and since the whole concern seems to be to provide a place for these men," said Charles Short, family resource director for the county, "it seemed most important that, instead of waiting until Dec. 12, we would get the men out of the cold."
Steve Goebel, regional director for Associated Catholic Charities -- which has been hired to operate the shelter -- was quick to say that the county's decision was right last night, as men began washing clothes and relaxing in the lounge area of the facility.
It was hoped that the shelter would be ready by Thanksgiving, he said. Last minute fire inspections and plumbing repairs caused delays, but even so, "we had one man here on Friday, hoping he could get a place," Goebel said, adding, "he's back here tonight."