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News Maryland Howard County Laurel

Howard selects alternative site for homeless shelter

Howard County government officials announced plans last week to build 30 efficiency apartments and a day center for the homeless near the intersection of Route 1 and Route 32, effectively ruling out the Beechcrest Mobile Home Park in North Laurel as a site for a homeless shelter.

However, residents of the 5-and-a-half-acre park will still be removed from the land, which was acquired by the Howard County Housing Commission last year.

"Howard County is budgeting $1.6 million for Beechcrest relocation over the next two years, and has notified the residents that the park will be closed in four phases, beginning Dec. 31, 2013 through June 30, 2015," county spokesman David Nitkin said in an email.

Residents of the 38-unit mobile home park and those living nearby testified against the center at County Council meetings earlier this year. At one meeting, approximately 90 residents of the park spoke against being relocated. One resident categorized the move as having "the rug pulled out from underneath us."

Nitkin said the $1.6 million will be given to residents in varying amounts depending on individual circumstances.

Regarding future plans for the site, Nitkin said the county is looking into developing a plan for the intersection of Route 1 and Whiskey Bottom Road.

Following the 'Plan to End Homelessness'

The planned homeless shelter and apartments will serve as a replacement for and upgrade to the current "aging and inadequate" day shelter located nearby off Route 1 in Jessup, which is managed by Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center.

"We are taking important steps to implement the Plan to End Homelessness, and this project is one of the most significant," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement. "Howard County is not immune from these challenges, and we can work together to make a difference for these individuals and our community."

According to Nitkin, the $3.25 million used to purchase the land, which is located on the Savage-Jessup line, was taken from a fund approved in the budget for land acquisition.

The new day shelter, called a day resource center, will continue to be managed by Grassroots, according to Deputy Director Deborah Popiel.

The housing component of the project, which officials say will be a "huge benefit," will be developed, built and maintained by Volunteers of America Chesapeake, and will be housed in the same structure as the center. The facility will be built on approximately 2 acres of the parcel. According to Nitkin, the project is still in the planning and financing phase, with groundbreaking at least a year away.

All 8 acres of the new site, which is located by a Salvation Army Thrift Store, will be turned over to the Housing Commission, which will lease the land to the VOA.

"I am honored to be able to bring our expertise to Howard County and look forward to working with county officials and the community to continue to make Howard County a great place to live for all," said VOA Chesapeake President and CEO Russ Snyder in a statement.

Nitkin said it is premature to discuss the future of the remaining 6 acres, but options could include future housing opportunities or nonprofit providers.

The purchase of the land is still contingent upon the completion of an environmental review, which is still pending, Nitkin said.

The efficiency-style apartments will house one person each and will include a space for a fold-out couch and a desk, which will serve as a clothes dresser.

A point-in-time survey conducted in January found 203 homeless Howard County residents, which includes 65 people living unsheltered. The number represents little change from the 2012 survey, which counted 230 homeless and 82 unsheltered.

However, according to Grassroots Executive Director Andrea Ingram, the number of homeless in the county is higher than those numbers indicate.

Last month, the current day resource center reported seeing 75 people a day on the three days a week it is open.

According to the survey, the majority of homeless are staying proximal to the proposed site, in parts of North Laurel and Savage.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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