A 57-bed emergency shelter for families in Baltimore is closing its doors after 80 years, reducing the number of places for homeless parents to stay with their children to a handful.
The Salvation Army is moving about 15 families from the Booth House at 1114 N. Calvert St. into alternative housing as it prepares to close the program on July 2, according to Maj. Gene Hogg, the nonprofit’s area commander for Central Maryland.
Hogg attributed the closing partly to a reduction in federal funding for temporary accommodations for the homeless. The Salvation Army lost about $155,000 of such funds for Booth House after the federal government redirected money toward permanent housing for the homeless a couple of years ago, he said.
Homeless advocates said the closure of Booth House will put more demand on the few other city shelters that provide emergency accommodations for families. Most shelters serve only men and women, often in large open rooms filled with bunk beds or cots. Other programs work only with domestic-violence victims.
John Schiavone, president of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, another charity that serves the homeless, called the shelter’s closure “a blow.”
“Losing these beds is only going to exacerbate the situation that already exists,” he said.
A 2017 census found about 2,700 homeless people in Baltimore, including 285 parents and children who were sleeping in emergency shelters.
At Sarah’s Hope, run by St. Vincent de Paul in West Baltimore, the city’s largest family shelter, the staff takes several calls each day from mothers and fathers looking for a place to stay with their children, but the shelter is nearly always full, Schiavone said. About 130 people, or roughly 50 families, can stay at any given time. Others must keep calling until a spot opens up; no waiting list is kept.
Schiavone said Sarah’s Hope is in early talks with the city to find a way to take in more families. The shelter doubled in size in 2015.
Terry Hickey, director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, said the city is helping the Salvation Army devise a transition plan for the families at the Booth House.
Hogg did not provide details on where the remaining families are moving; all but one family already has been placed into alternative housing. The Salvation Army will continue to provide case management services to clients of Booth House.
“We work with the city and others,” he said. “We’re not closing and pushing people out. We want to make sure they are housed in a stable program.”
Booth House cost $900,000 a year to operate, but the nonprofit has been operating it at a $700,000 deficit, Hogg said. The deficit was caused by a variety of factors, including the loss of federal funds about two years ago, he said.
In 2016, under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cut $3.8 million in aid for homeless services to a variety of Baltimore nonprofits and faith-based organizations. Advocates warned then that the shift in priorities from financial support for temporary services to permanent housing could result in the closure of facilities and a loss of outreach services.
The Salvation Army eventually plans to open permanent affordable housing for poor people, possibly refurbished rowhouses or a complex on a redeveloped tract of land, Hogg said. He said firm plans are least a couple of years away.
Hogg said moving toward permanent housing fits with the Salvation Army’s broader mission under its “Pathway of Hope” initiative that looks to provide services powerful enough to break generations of poverty and stop cycles of crisis. The emphasis in the future will be on families who repeatedly seek emergency assistance, he said.
“We believe we can make a better impact for our clients,” Hogg said. “The money wasn’t the main motivator. We felt it was time to move into something more permanent.”
The Booth House allowed families to stay for about three months, offered a full kitchen, workshops and help securing permanent housing, employment and medical assistance.
The Salvation Army has not determined what it will do with the Booth House property in Mid-Town Belvedere, an area undergoing a lot of apartment development due partly to its proximity to Penn Station.
Antonia K. Fasanelli, director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said the loss of emergency shelters for families in Baltimore is reaching a crisis point. The city needs to find alternative solutions, including creating a locally funded voucher program and investing in the affordable housing trust fund approved by voters in November 2016, she said.
“This is yet another reason why the city must move and must most quickly,” Fasanelli said. “Time and time again we hear stories of a shelter closing, or the shelters are full and there is no place for people to go.
“If nothing else makes us move, this should make us move.”