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Monday, March 21, 2011

Homeless in Howard County

I recently sat down with Andrea Ingram the Executive Director of Grassroots to talk about the issue of homelessness in Howard County. Somehow because we don’t see homeless individuals in the County the way you can in DC or Baltimore we don’t realize that homelessness does exist in Howard County in less visible ways. Be sure to look at the ways to get involved with this issue at the end of the blog.

I have seen the signs of homeless individuals living in some of the wooded areas near Columbia. The path from Lake Elkhorn down to Savage is just one area where I have seen this. Years ago when I worked with the Office on Aging we had a call from someone who saw an elderly homeless man living under a bridge on Route 1 near the Laurel Race track.

In attending some meetings of the Baltimore Homeless Coalition a few years ago I realized that homelessness was much more than individuals who are living on the streets. Most homeless people don’t live on the streets but live in many temporary situations. The most frequent is what is called “couch surfing” and involves moving from one temporary place to another. Could be with a friend or unfortunately someone they just met and is looking to exploit them.

We are fortunate to have a resource such as Grassroots. For many years they have been providing 24 hour hotline and shelter services. Grassroots operates the only general emergency shelter in Howard County. The program has 33 beds for families and single adult women experiencing a shelter crisis. Additionally as a back-up to Emergency Shelter Grassroots has a capacity to house up to five families for up to fifteen days in a motel when the shelter is full and there are no immediate alternatives. More recently the have created a Mobile Crisis Team to respond to human service emergencies and includes two mental health professionals. Teaming with the Howard County Police, Humanim and the Mental Health Authority, situations can be professional evaluated and serious mental health situations can be addressed before they become more serious.

In the past few years Grassroots has partnered with local religious congregations to provide cold weather shelter in the congregations facilities from November through March. Congregations host the shelter for one or two weeks and provide volunteers for transportation, meals, laundry and to work shifts in the shelter. Grassroots provides administrative coordination and a staff person to act as the team leader during the hours that the shelter is open.

Howard County has developed a plan to end homelessness that is on the web. Many initiatives are presently underway.

SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery)

This project, led by Grassroots and the Mental Health Authority, assists homeless people with

disabilities to quickly obtain Social Security benefits.

Maryland SAIL {Service Access and Information Link).

This collaboration of Grassroots and Humanim assists homeless persons at the Day Resource Center to apply online for food stamps, temporary disability payments and other Department of Social Services benefits. Dozens of clients who previously had practical or perceived barriers have received benefits for which they are eligible.

Bridges Housing Stability Program

Bridges is converting transitional housing resources for 7 homeless families to housing-focused case management that will prevent the homelessness of 40 at-risk households each year. This includes assisting families living in unaffordable housing and motels, and those on the transitional housing wait list, to be re-housed without entering shelter.

Sober Houses

As described in the Plan, these are a low cost way of providing permanent supportive housing to persons in recovery. Members of the Housing Task Group are facilitating investigations by four separate organizations of ways they might start and operate sober houses.

Housing Project for Homeless Women

Grassroots has applied for CDBG funds to purchase a housing unit to provide housing and supportive services to three homeless women. The project would give homeless women an opportunity to address addictions, mental illness, and health problems, and re-connect with family members and other support systems.

Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP)

This partnership involving the Department of Citizens Services, Grassroots, Bridges to Housing Stability and Christ Church Link is designed to prevent homelessness for vulnerable families and individuals. This federal stimulus grant of $253,898 over two years provides financial assistance to prevent homelessness and offers case management support to help households maintain their housing. To date, the program has provided financial assistance to 60 households (153 people) and case management services to 18 households.

Housing Resource Specialists

Grassroots is using United Way funding for two half-time housing search specialists. Based on best practice models, they will develop an inventory of traditional and alternative housing opportunities, then work with case managers, landlords, real estate agents and online advertising media to match homeless households with available housing.

To get involved with homelessness in Howard County you have some options which I am listing.

1) Contact Jane O’Leary at 410-312-5760 ext. 100 to get involved with the Committee to End Homelessness. The Committee is responsible for advising the Board to promote Self-Sufficiency on issues related to homelessness.

2) If you belong to one of the religious congregations that provide cold weather shelter volunteer in that effort. If your congregation is not participating you can contact Anna Katz the Cold Weather Shelter Coordinator at 410-531-6006 or

3) Go to my friend Tom Coale’s effort to raise $1500 for Grassroots at

1 comment:

JessieX said...

Fantastic post, Duane. I added this to the hocoblogs' Facebook page ... and tweeted about it, of course.