A homeless man clad in faded jeans and a worn olive green sweatshirt asks car passengers waiting at a red light for help at Guilford Road in Jessup, just a quarter of a mile from the site for a new facility intended to tackle homelessness.
It's a sight Jessup resident Lillian Allen, who has lived in a white house jutting up against site, has grown accustomed to after living in the area for nearly 57 years.
"Something has to change," Allen said. "We're just waiting to see how the center rolls out."
Intended to tackle homelessness in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, the three-story building will include 35 high-efficiency apartments for the homeless.The center, called the Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center, is expected to be completed by summer 2017 and will replace the Day Resource Center near the Jessup-Laurel border, which provides warm meals, counseling and medical exams to homeless people.
Elected officials and local leaders lauded the new center as a method to tackle homelessness head-on at a groundbreaking on Wednesday.
"This is the kind of project that defines a community. This says something about who we are," said state Sen. Guy Guzzone.
The center is named after Leola Dorsey, an iconic civil rights activist and leader in Howard County, who grew up down the road from the site and fought for the rights of the county's African American residents. In 1947, Dorsey was president of the newly formed chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other community organizations.
Her son, Charles Dorsey, a retired school administrator, said Wednesday's groundbreaking "means the world" to their family.
"Younger people will appreciate what she's done: Her civic activity and her interest in her church, the college, and all of the things she lived for. Everything she did, she gave her best, for all that she did," said Dorsey.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman lauded Dorsey's work. "I remember Leola always told me she zigs and she zags. This thing has been zigging and zagging … but because Leola was there for us whenever we needed her, we will be there for those in need of us."
Long time coming
The current Day Resource Center was Joe Wilmott's brainchild. The new location provides a much-needed opportunity to address the current center's scramble for space, Wilmott said.
"Our most important role is not in the food and the clothing and the laundry. Our most important role is providing a link to those who don't have the skills, the transportation, the communication and the trust in the system," Wilmott said.
"It's a platform for them to lead their lives. It comes down to space. With more, we're able to attract even more services and agencies to provide services to those in need," said Wilmott.
The idea for the new center grows out of a recommendation from the county's Plan to End Homelessness in 2010, which outlines goals for the county in tackling situational homeless — which occurs when stable individuals and families cannot afford housing due to job loss, injury or another disaster — and chronic homelessness, which often involves individuals with mental illness and substance abuse problems.
The county, according to the report, has primarily struggled with situational homeless.
Plans to build a new space for the resource center have a beleaguered history.
A proposal for a center in Jessup drew ire from some residents two years ago, who said their communities were being unfairly tapped as a hotspot for homeless resources. Under former County Executive Ken Ulman, the county abandoned original plans to build a facility on the Beechcrest Mobile Home Park on Route 1 near Whiskey Bottom Road after resident pushback.
The new center's developer is Volunteers of America Chesapeake, a faith-based health and human services nonprofit. The project is being funded by organizations like the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Howard County Housing Commission, the county government and state bond funds.