She had no money, no job and wasn't getting along with her boyfriend. At the end of the day, Tami Margolin found herself at the Rockville United Methodist Church Shelter, one of Montgomery County's daytime havens for the homeless.
"I don't care what bed I sleep in, as long as I have a place to sleep," said the 23-year-old who grew up in the county. "I don't care how big it is, how small it is, just so I have a place."
Margolin's hope for a place to stay, which was answered with a telephone call to another shelter in the county, is one that 1,700 people are expected to experience this winter in Montgomery County. A new shelter will be opened Monday, but officials say even nine shelters -- the most in any of Washington's large suburban counties -- will not be enough.
"We're still answering only [part] of the need," said Adrianne L. Carr, associate director of the United Church Center for Community Ministries, an ecumenical association that has worked with the county to supply shelters. "Right now in Rockville, there are people living in garages, people living in cars . . . . What we're going to do with this new shelter is apply another Band-Aid to what needs radical surgery."
The shelter care system of Montgomery County housed 1,017 persons from last December through April, the toughest months for the homeless, according to the county's Department of Family Resources. But 700 more people were refused a place to sleep because there was no available shelter, an increase of more than 500 persons from the previous year, county records show.
The records also show that while the shelter network added 38 beds last year, the rate of occupancy for the county's shelters increased -- up from 83 percent in 1984 to 88 percent last winter.
"That doesn't necessarily mean there are more homeless in Montgomery County, but rather that we are serving our homeless," said Andrea Giehl-Whitney, shelters coordinator for the Associated Catholic Charities, who compiled the figures for the county. "We have the most shelters of the larger counties and 80 percent of the people we served last year were from Montgomery County."
Comparable statistics from other counties surrounding Washington, which has a significant and increasing homeless problem, have not been kept, but representatives of area social service agencies say they know the needs of the homeless are not being met.
Prince George's County has no walk-in shelters for the homeless, but does have one facility with five beds for displaced persons referred by local service agencies, according to Robert Crittenden, coordinator of shelter programs operated by the Catholic Charities there.
Fairfax County, which has relied on a network of churches to provide beds for the homeless, adopted a plan last summer to provide permanent shelters for what one county official called "an increasing homeless problem." The first such shelter, to be located at Baileys Crossroads, will provide beds for 50 to 60 people and will open this winter.
"I would say we run at 90 percent capacity during the winter," said Donna Foster, assistant director of Fairfax County's Department of Social Services. "The high cost of housing and the flow of individuals who come into this area looking for jobs have kept the number growing."
The newest shelter in Montgomery, to be located at the headquarters of the Youth Conservation Corps, 600 East Gude Dr., Rockville, is designed to provide 20 more beds for men, who are the most frequent users of the shelters.
Plans to provide another shelter to deal with individuals suffering from alcohol related problems are now being considered by the County Health Department, according to county social workers