Program Director Deborah Davis stands outside

Program Director Deborah Davis stands outside the new YWCA Greater Baltimore permanent supportive housing facility for homeless women, located on Southwestern Boulevard. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / June 16, 2011)

Chronically homeless women will soon have fully furnished apartments of their own in a newly renovated building in southwestern Baltimore County.

The YWCA Greater Baltimore, which is overseeing the Arbutus Permanent Supportive Housing program, opened the apartment complex Thursday and anticipates full occupancy by next month. The women will have the privacy not afforded in shelters, the comforts of their own things about them and on-site counseling, all of which organizers say will help them move on with their lives.

The former shelter has undergone a $1.1 million renovation and conversion into 13 efficiency apartments, with a common area and staff offices.

"The need is severe with scores of homeless women throughout the county," said Mary Chestnut, CEO of the YWCA Greater Baltimore. "Finally having this complete transformation to offer is powerful for us. For many of the women it will serve, this will be the first time they have a space of their own."

Residents, who will be referred by the county Department of Social Services and other partner agencies, will move into units that are furnished down to the linens, dishware and wall decor, thanks to corporate and private donations. Even the kitchen cupboards are stocked with staples, and each resident will find a basket brimming with toiletries in her bathroom.

"This will be a brand-new start for women who have experienced homelessness," said Deborah Davis, on-site program director. "This has definitely been an underserved population."

The United Way of Central Maryland has contributed to the project and its Women's Leadership Council has been involved in outfitting the building, "right down to lining the dresser drawers," Chestnut said.

Prospective residents must be at least 18 years old, single and childless with a verified disability that has led to chronic homelessness, such as addiction or mental illness. They can remain with the program indefinitely and receive counseling and therapy. As they find employment, the women will pay about 30 percent of their income in rent.

The YWCA built the one-story property on Southwestern Boulevard in the late 1980s and used it as a women and children's shelter until a few years ago. The county paid to restore it with federal stimulus money, and the renovation work began last fall.

The building, once known as the Eleanor D. Corner House, also offers a common living room with comfortable seating and a flat-screen TV, as well as a full-service laundry.

"It's home, a place to live in dignity," said Jo Martin, YWCA spokeswoman. "It is all accessible in a totally green building. Yes, there are only 13 [apartments], but that's 13 more than we had."

"We will be taking women directly from shelters, encampments, maybe off the streets," said Chestnut of the program, the first of its kind in the county. "Here they won't share the kitchen or the bathroom. They will have somewhere of their own to live, while they work on whatever goals they have to move forward with their lives."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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