Baltimore officials have carved out space for 75 additional people to sleep in the city's homeless shelter this winter, officials said Wednesday.
The news of the additional sleeping space came as the city's spending board approved nearly $160,000 for contracts to run the city shelter and ferry the homeless to overflow facilities.
The newly constructed $8 million shelter offers private showers, laundry facilities and computer work stations, but it has 100 fewer emergency beds than the facility that preceded it.
Homeless advocates had threatened to sue the city because the shelter offers fewer beds for women than for men. There are 175 beds in the men's dormitory and 75 for women.
Thomasina Hiers, director of human services, said workers have arranged for 25 women and 50 men to sleep in the shelter's day rooms through mid-March.
Hiers said women have not been turned away from the shelter, and the extra space in the day rooms ensures that there is adequate space to accommodate them.
"We have not had to turn any women away," she said. "We are very closely monitoring the utilization information."
City Fire Marshal Raymond C. O'Brocki said he had agreed to allow the increase in the number of beds that were allowed on the floor designated for women and had authorized shelter workers to install bunks for women.
Hiers said there are no plans to install bunks and that the shelter does not have the funds to care for additional women.
"I can't afford to do it," she said.
The Board of Estimates approved Wednesday a $95,000 contract with Jobs, Housing and Recovery, the nonprofit that runs the city's shelter. The five-member board, whose members include Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt, also voted to retroactively pay $64,993 to Durham School Services for taking people to overflow shelters from July to December.
Each evening, some homeless people are taken by bus from the city shelter in the 600 block of Fallsway to several overflow shelters throughout the city, including the former city shelter in the 200 block of Guilford Ave., a few blocks away.
Hiers said the city has maintained an overflow shelter during the winter for many years.
The new shelter sleeps fewer people than the facilities that preceded it in part because federal funds never materialized that city officials had hoped could be used to secure permanent housing for the homeless.
Baltimore's homeless population has grown exponentially in recent years. Outreach workers counted 4,100 homeless people on a January night last year, but noted 3,400 two years earlier.
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