The 24-hour facility will provide temporary housing and services to the city's homeless population, which officials believe may exceed 4,000 on any given night.
"This is the culmination of one of our goals in our 10-year plan to end homelessness," said Kate Briddell, director of the city's homeless services program.
The housing center is a short walk from a cluster of other agencies that offer health care, crisis counseling and job training. Briddell said it is important to add beds in an area where homeless people already come for services designed to help them get their economic footing.
"We will provide many services on site and there are several other agencies nearby," Briddell said. "Our Daily Bread Employment Center is right across the street."
The wide-bay doors that once accommodated lumbering trolley cars are now floor-to-ceiling windows finished in clear pine. Soft green walls and mahogany trim give the 30,000-square-foot building a homelike feel. Green and off-white tiles cover the floors.
"This is absolutely what we wanted our architect to do," Briddell said. "There is maximum natural light and beautiful, not institutional, spaces. People should live in beautiful spaces."
The three-story brick building will offer shelter, meals and services to the city's homeless population on a round-the-clock basis. Funds from the state, city and $1.5 million from the Weinberg Foundation paid for construction.
"This facility and others in this general area will help complete the circle of care for homeless men and women," said Chuck Tildon, vice president for external affairs for the United Way. "It will also give them access to the many services they need."
Clients will begin moving July 5 into the center, which is furnished with 275 beds. The first floor offers separate day rooms for men and women. Each is outfitted with TVs, phones, computers and game tables. There is also a full-service cafeteria, which will serve breakfast and dinner, and a commercial-size laundry area, assuring daily changes of bed linens.
"This is a wonderful and much-needed resource for the homeless," said Susan Schubin of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. "The day rooms are gorgeous and will give the homeless someplace to spend their days."
About a dozen city housing employees plan to be working from their offices and assisting clients on the ground floor by the end of next week. The building, equipped with closed-circuit TV and on-site security, will cost about $3.5 million annually to staff and maintain.
The second floor houses the men's dormitory, communal bathrooms and showers and storage facilities. Iron beds, each with a privacy screen and storage drawer, fill the floor.
The third floor of the building is similar in layout but divided into a women's dormitory and a 25-bed convalescent care area that will be run by Healthcare for the Homeless. The space includes an examination room, nursing office, a day room and a wide balcony that offers a sweeping view of downtown.
"This is a space where people can recuperate and relax," Briddell said. "They can even look out on a rooftop garden."
The city launched its 10-year plan to end homelessness in January 2008 and is steadily moving forward with the effort, called Journey Home Campaign.
"We are really hoping that the economy will turn around and more affordable housing will become available," Briddell said. "Until then, this shelter is a large part of our Journey Home Campaign."