A Catonsville resident recently told Joe Sanders there are no homeless people in the neighborhood, an observation that the chairman of Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless says he refutes frequently.
"Just because you don't see homeless hanging out does not mean they are not among us," Sanders said. "We have to change people's perspectives. So many are uninformed about the face of homelessness."
Sanders was among the featured speakers Thursday at an annual gathering of agencies and volunteers involved in helping the homeless and changing perspectives on their plight. Social workers and county staffers met with those who run shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries at a Perry Hall church to discuss the progress of the county's proposed 10-year plan — still in draft stage — to end homelessness.
They vowed to support legislation that ensures housing rights and enables people to move into supportive housing from county shelters that daily provide a home for about 550 men, women and children.
"Shelters are not the answer," said Sue Bull, the county's homeless coordinator. "We have to work on foreclosure and eviction prevention and create a system that moves folks from shelters into housing quicker."
Seven volunteer work groups have been studying the 10-year plan for the past year. Their recommendations on housing, resources, sustainability, best practices, resource coordination, shelter reconfiguration and data management will now be incorporated into the plan. The final draft will likely go to the County Council for approval in about six months. If it is approved, the clock will begin ticking on the 10-year deadline, mandated by the federal government.
Sanders urged the groups to stay informed and engaged. The BCCH is sponsoring two events in Towson to raise awareness. A Dec. 7 rally at Towson United Methodist Church will support the Maryland Home Act, which prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income. On Dec. 21 at Calvary Baptist Church, the annual Homeless Persons Memorial Service will honor those who have died in the last year.