After listening to community concerns during a meeting that lasted more than two hours Tuesday night, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said he supports a proposed housing and resource center for the homeless in Jessup.
According to Kittleman's press secretary, Andy Barth, the county executive said building the center was "the right thing to do."
The county executive thinks that "the best way to serve [Howard's homeless citizens] is to have multiple services in one place," Barth said.
During the meeting, held at Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage, local residents debated county officials about whether building housing and the resource center is the best strategy for serving the county's homeless community.
Dozens of community members from Savage and nearby North Laurel, along with Kittleman, Howard County Housing Director Tom Carbo and leaders of local organizations that serve the homeless, attended the session hosted by the Savage Community Association.
Proposed are 35 efficiency apartments for single homeless men and women on Guilford Road behind a Salvation Army thrift store near the intersection of Routes 1 and 32. The apartments would be on the second and third stories of a three-story building. The first floor would be a resource center, offering basic services to the building's residents and other people in need.
People who live near the site said they are concerned concentrating people who have histories of homelessness in one building could bring crime, chronic drug use and other problems into their community.
"Every single one of us feel very sorry and we are very upset by the fact that there are homeless; we want to help them," Ellen Long, of Savage, said. "We are saying we do not want a ghetto so that people can be bused in from other areas and all over the county."
Many who spoke, including Ron Coleman, also of Savage, said they favored dispersing shelters for homeless people throughout the county.
"There's no reason why we can't put people in ... homes without building a complex," Coleman said.
Advocates for the homeless, however, said the proposed center's location near Route 1 is intended to meet a need in the community where it would be built.
"We haven't really found significant other pockets of homelessness in Howard County," said Andrea Ingram, the director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, a nonprofit that runs a homeless shelter in Columbia. Grassroots also operates a day resource center on Route 1 that is open three days a week and provides services such as substance abuse and mental health treatment, job placement help and laundry to people in need.
"The reality is, wherever you go, no one wants this in their neighborhood," Ingram said.
Though the number of homeless people in Howard County is constantly in flux and difficult to nail down, Ingram said she knew 15 families were staying in motels on vouchers Tuesday night. In addition, she said, between four and six people were sleeping in the Grassroots lobby, and about 24 more people were staying in the county's cold weather shelter.
People who would stay in the 35 efficiency apartments proposed for Guilford Road would have to pay some rent to live there, according to Russ Snyder, the president and CEO of Volunteers of America Chesapeake, a faith-based nonprofit providing health and human services to those in need in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia areas. The organization would manage the housing complex. Snyder said the apartment building would have 24/7 security.
In addition, locating resources right below housing "is more efficient," he said.
Kittleman, who listened for most of the meeting, addressed those in attendance at the start of the session.
"This is a touchy issue," he said. "I'm here tonight to listen." He went on to say that while he promised to listen to concerns, "that doesn't mean we will always agree."
Savage Community Association President Susan Garber said she wanted her community to have a voice in the process.
"We would like you to stop and re-evaluate the actions" taken so far, she said.
Editor's note: A print version of this story in the Howard County Times and Columbia Flier does not include Kittleman's decision, which was announced after the paper's deadline.