Representatives of homeless service and advocacy agencies in Maryland are convening next month with the lofty goal of ending homelessness in the state within 10 years.
The goal reflects a target set by the Bush administration, officials said.
A summit Dec. 14 and 15 in Baltimore will bring together representatives of 50 local, state and federal agencies that serve the state's homeless, said Gregory D. Shupe, director of the Office of Transitional Services at the Maryland Department of Human Resources. Shupe also works with the state's Interagency Council on Homelessness.
"What we need to look at is how to end homelessness or how to make it rare and brief," Shupe said. "No, we're not going to have a full-blown plan in two days, but we can do the framework for it, set some objectives and things we want to do over the next 10 years."
The homeless situation in Maryland is growing worse because of funding constraints, authorities said. Agency officials said they are struggling to provide emergency shelter services to an increasing number of men, women and families as the rising price of housing and continuing unemployment leave more people unable to afford a place to live. At the same time, cuts in federal housing aid and the state's social services budget have reduced the money available for services for the needy and homeless, advocates said.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources estimated that from July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003, there were a minimum of 46,000 homeless men, women and children in the state.
At the meeting next month, the advocates plan to address topics such as health, housing, income and support services. These will include transportation, child care, case management and prevention strategies.
"At the federal level, the focus is on chronic homelessness, which usually focuses on single and disabled adults," Shupe said. "Our starting point here is to look at very low income people, which includes people who are disabled, on [Social Security] or nothing, and also families on extremely low incomes. We need to look at the whole system here. How we roll out the priority objectives will depend on the group that is there."
Despite budget constraints, officials believe that ending homelessness is a realistic goal. "We already spend an immense amount on the homeless now, if you look at mental and emergency-room services, arresting people, putting them in jail and those kinds of things," Shupe said. "What we believe is that if we spent our money differently and really invested in some things like affordable housing, supportive services and prevention services to keep people housed, we could achieve the goal that homelessness will be rare and brief. We firmly believe it is doable if we choose to make that investment."
The summit comes as homeless service agencies across the state are opening shelters and implementing their annual winter programs to provide emergency housing and food. Most shelters open nightly beginning this month and continuing until late March.
The Montgomery County Men's Emergency Shelter on Gude Drive in Rockville, a 100-bed building, was near capacity last week after temperatures began dropping below 40 degrees each night. The shelter was built four years ago to replace trailers that once served as a shelter on the same site. Program director Ron Hall said men are allowed to enter the shelter at 5 p.m. and stay until 7 a.m. the next day.
"We will serve 800 to 900 men this winter, and 30 percent of them will be in almost every night," he said. "We have people who are jobless, day laborers and about 10 percent who have daily jobs."
Angel's Watch in Hughesville is the only shelter serving women and children in Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties. The year-round site became a "hypothermia shelter" Nov. 1, providing meals, shelter and other services from 4 p.m. until the next morning, said Denise Capaci, regional director for Catholic Charities in Southern Maryland, which operates the shelter.
"We are a domestic violence shelter, an emergency shelter and a transitional shelter, but on days when the temperature drops below freezing we become a hypothermia shelter," Capaci said. "No one should be sleeping outside on nights when they can freeze."
Men in the three-county area are helped by the Robert Fuller House men's shelter in La Plata, said Rebecca B. Bridgett, director of Charles County's Department of Social Services. The 16-bed shelter can make room for 10 more during cold weather, officials said. Food pantries at churches and other charitable organizations contribute additional services.
Catholic Charities operates Prince George's House on Addison Road. It also runs 12 shelters in the District and three in Montgomery County. The agency provides more-permanent housing for homeless families in Southern Maryland, Capaci said.
Shelter officials agree that there isn't enough emergency housing, Capaci said. Angel's Watch turns away at least 15 homeless families a day. In Howard County, officials at the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, the county's only emergency shelter, said they are forced to lodge homeless people in inexpensive motels because the 32-bed shelter does not have enough space.
Staff researcher Robert W. Lyford contributed to this report.