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Broken relationship with city threatens Prisoners Aid's future

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A deteriorated funding arrangement with Baltimore City has left one of the state's oldest social service agencies in dire straits — behind on multiple mortgages and without basic utilities at its men's shelter on East Lanvale Street.

Founded in 1869, the Prisoners Aid Association of Maryland Inc. has long been a financial partner of the city's, helping to provide a safety net for the thousands of men and women who are estimated to be homeless in the city each night.

But multiple contracts between the city and the association have been terminated in recent years.

The association claims the city owes it more than $140,000 for services and apartment rentals it has provided disadvantaged residents under existing contracts. The city says about $36,500 remains under two contracts and is available to the association if it provides documentation for the services.

How the long-standing partnership broke down, and whether it can be repaired, remains unclear.

Frank Marchant, the association's executive director, said city officials cut off funding for a slew of contracted services, including case management work, the operation of two shelters, and the rental of apartments to individuals covered by grant funding the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

City officials paid for those services for years, Marchant said, adding that he doesn't know why they have stopped paying now.

"It's almost like the city has some vendetta," he said.

Olivia Farrow, director of the Mayor's Office of Human Services, said Marchant has largely failed since October 2011 to submit required paperwork documenting expenditures under two existing contracts, which had a combined worth of more than $110,000 for services provided by the association at its men's East Lanvale shelter and its women's Baltimore Street shelter.

Farrow said four other contracts that the city previously held with Prisoners Aid — including money for apartment placements that involved HUD funding — were worth more than $1.6 million combined but were terminated and transferred to other service providers.

One contract worth $951,000 was transferred to another provider with $417,000 remaining, Farrow said. Another, worth $557,000, was transferred to another group with $409,000 left over, she said.

The contracts with Prisoners Aid were terminated because of problems with how the association documented its services, Farrow said.

"We went in and saw we couldn't receive the documentation to substantiate their claims," Farrow said. "The feeling was that we really needed to get those monies into the hands of providers who could provide back-up documentation."

Marchant said he has always filed paperwork correctly.

Men living at the East Lanvale shelter said they hoped the issue is resolved quickly.

"We don't have [anywhere] else to go. This is it for us," said Kevin Matthews, who was released from prison after 11 years on April 3. "If it weren't for this place, I'd probably be sleeping under a bridge somewhere."

Matthews, 50, of East Baltimore, said he spends his nights at the shelter and his days filling out job applications.

"That would be pretty hard without a place to come back and rest, get a nice bath, and go out and do it over again," he said.

Chris Mickie, who has been at the shelter since April 4, said the city should help the association work to reduce repeat crime in the city.

"You're trying to stop dudes from breaking the law, and when most dudes get out of jail, they don't have anywhere to go. This gives you a place to stay for a while until you can get out and be a productive member of society," he said. "You're trying to stop adding to crime on the street, but you're putting people back out on the street. What do you think they're going to do to survive?"

Marchant said he's now wondering how the association will survive.

Besides the East Lanvale shelter, the lights have also been turned off at the group's offices on East 25th Street and will likely go off at its Baltimore Street women's shelter soon, Marchant said.

The association, which owns and rents 44 apartments to disadvantaged city residents, is also underwater on six or seven mortgages, Marchant said.

Farrow said grant compliance officers in her office have been trying for months to work with Prisoners Aid to solve the paperwork problems.

Especially with its HUD-funded contracts, the city has to follow specific protocols for documenting expenditures, Farrow said, adding that Marchant hasn't provided the paperwork.

"If he's got a claim for $140,000, he should be able to show us that claim," she said. "It's as simple as that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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