Not everyone is enamored with the idea. People living in the trailer park, who have been told Beechcrest will close next November, are confused about what's next, and other area residents are unhappy with the notion of a homeless center in their midst.
"It's a big mess," says Chuck Winfrey, a carpenter who lives at Beechcrest with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. "Nobody knows what's going on."
Soon after the commission bought the land, representatives met with Beechcrest residents to tell them what was happening, and the panel has given the one-year notice for closing a trailer park required by state law, Carbo says. He says a management company has been hired to take over the property, including gathering information from renters and owners to prepare for a move.
The commission will offer the residents help in finding affordable homes, including paying moving costs and rent subsidies on their new places.
Some area homeowners say a center for homeless people is not what the area needs.
"I don't think the people in the area like it," says Bibi Perrotte-Foston, president of the North Laurel Civic Association, who says she's received several calls and email from residents who object to the apartment plan. She says she does not believe the proposal fits the goal of revitalizing U.S. 1, which is emphasized in PlanHoward 2030, the county's new master plan for growth adopted this year.
"I don't think a homeless shelter would be good for the area," Perrotte-Foston says. "I don't think that's what revitalization means."
While the Housing Commission did hold one community meeting last month, she says, officials have done a poor job of keeping people informed.
Richard Freas, a retired county firefighter who has lived in North Laurel for 26 years, says he's in favor of helping homeless people and realizes that opposing the project "makes you sound, at least, like a NIMBY [Not In My Backyard]."
Still, he's concerned about the impact the apartments could have on property values and wonders whether it's yet another example of how the 11-mile stretch of U.S. 1 corridor in the eastern end of Howard County seems to get the short end of the stick.
"This area sort of gets dumped on," Freas says.
Carbo says this is the beginning of the project and that further meetings with residents will be held as the work unfolds. He says the location makes sense for several reasons: The property is zoned for an apartment building; it's on U.S. 1, where most of the county's homeless people live; and it's close to public bus lines.
"We were not able to identify [other locations] that are appropriate," he says.
The spot is not far from the Turf Motel, from the place where Watkins' body was found, and from the Day Resource Center, where McCulley stopped by last week, getting hugs from people who had heard the news about Watkins.
They were together for three years, he says, spending the past year in three motels. It wasn't cheap, says McCulley, 50, who works as a handyman, walking U.S. 1 with a cardboard sign offering his services, handing out printed business cards and fliers. But he says they were never able to save enough for the upfront costs of a month's rent and security deposit for an apartment, or able to pass the required credit check.
"We never talked a lot about her past life," McCulley says. "But at least we were together and we loved each other."