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Survey finds little change in number of Howard County homeless

House BuildingKen Ulman

The 2013 Point-In-Time survey counted 203 homeless Howard County residents Jan. 23, with the majority of those surveyed staying in North Laurel and Savage, according to Vidia Dhanraj, coordinator of community partnerships with the Department of Citizen Services.

The count includes 65 people living unsheltered, such as outdoors or in cars. Howard County's homeless population has hovered around 200 people since 2010. Last year's survey counted 230 homeless individuals with 82 living unsheltered.

The Point-In-Time survey is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine grant funding.

While the results of the Point-In-Time survey have not fluctuated greatly over the past four years, Andrea Ingram, executive director of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, said the number of homeless is higher than the survey points out.

"This is a snap shot of one day," she said. "We're counting people who we can get our hands on."

Ingram said the crisis counselors at Grassroots received 150 to 160 calls or walk-ins a month from people who are homeless or about to be homeless.

When talking to county officials who work with the homeless, affordable housing is what's needed in the county.

"When you come right down to it, it's about housing," Ingram said.

Howard County is still searching for a place to build an apartment building for the chronically homeless, a facility which some say will be a "huge" benefit for the county's homeless.

"Even the cheapest apartment in Howard County is outside their financial reach," said Melinda Becker, manager of the Day Resource Center on Route 1 in Jessup.

The Day Resource Center sees about 75 people a day on the three days a week it is open, according to Becker.

"Guests are typically dealing with a mental health or addiction issue, and once they make the commitment to go to rehabilitation, they have nowhere to go once they are out," Becker said.

"They come back to living in a tent, car or truck bed," she said. "They're right back into the drug using community they had left."

The county had planned to build a 33- to 50-unit apartment building at the Beechcrest Mobile Home Park on Route 1 in North Laurel, but Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has instructed the Housing Commission to suspend planning for the site, according to Tom Carbo, executive director of the Howard County Housing Commission.

Carbo said he and Ulman still believe Beechcrest is an appropriate site, but also understand the concerns of the community.

The commission is looking for another site within the Route 1 corridor, but if an alternative can't be found, the commission will look back to Beechcrest, Carbo said.

He said there is no time frame on securing an alternative site.

The commission had acquired the 5.5-acre mobile home park, located north of Whiskey Bottom Road along Route 1, in September from Atapco Properties. The county planned on closing the park Nov. 15 while providing relocation assistance that equaled at least 10 months' rent.

But residents at the 38-unit mobile home park complained that they were being unfairly forced out, and nearby residents expressed concern that a homeless shelter would bring drug use and other criminal activity to the area.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced March 13 that Howard County would receive $864,000 for housing and local services for the homeless.

Dhanraj said this funding will be used for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families with disabilities.

The county spends about $2.5 million annually on homeless services, including food, shelter and crisis intervention programs such as Grassroots and the Community Action Council, she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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