Land swap with Franklin Square would facilitate new homeless shelter in Essex

At Baltimore County's shelter for homeless women and families in Essex, bunk beds are crammed together and residents keep belongings in plastic tubs. When fathers arrive with families, they have to sleep on mats out in the hall.

The computer lab doubles as a meeting room and tutoring center for children. Then there's the bathroom: four shower stalls and three toilet stalls for more than 100 people.


It's been more than 40 years since the county built the Eastern Family Resource Center and Shelter on the grounds of Franklin Square Medical Center, and the building has long since outlived its useful life.

"Everything has dual purposes. There's not a lot of space," said Terri Kingeter of the county's Department of Planning.


The county plans to build a replacement shelter and family services building, and needs approval from the Baltimore County Council to approve a deal it struck with Franklin Square in which the hospital will add the shelter to its campus — the shelter is adjacent to the hospital — and the hospital will give the county $5 million and a piece of land about a block away that's currently a parking lot.

A vote on the land swap is schedule for Monday's council meeting.

Officials with Franklin Square's parent company, MedStar Health, did not respond to requests for comment about the deal, but Amy Grossi, supervisor of real estate for county government, called it a "unique exchange" that took years to negotiate.

County Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat who represents the area, said she "couldn't be more thrilled" with the pact. Bevins said the hospital is growing and needs the space. At the same time, the county will get a much-needed new shelter.

MedStar is paying the county $5 million and a 3.9-acre property that's appraised at $384,000. The existing three-story shelter is appraised at $2.58 million.

The building initially housed a cold-weather shelter, but the county expanded the offerings as the county's homeless population has grown over the years. Officials estimate that on any given night, about 550 people are living in shelters or on county streets. The county gets about 40 calls per day from people seeking shelter.

"The homeless population has continued to grow and grow," Kingeter said.

The shelter can accommodate up to 125 people including single women, women with children and families in dorm-style housing. No single men are allowed.

The building has offices for programs such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, mental health treatment, immunization clinics and Health Care for the Homeless services.

The new building will cost $25 million, with money coming from the state and county — and the $5 million from Franklin Square.

It will have an emergency shelter for women and families that can accommodate up to 250 beds, although county officials say they plan to keep the population at about 125.

There will be a 50-bed shelter for men in a separate part of the building.


Upper floors will include health and social service offices, as well as a transitional shelter with room for about 10 families who will have their own bedrooms but share kitchens and restrooms.

"It's going to give folks a lot more personal space," Kingeter said.

Council approval of the land deal is one of the last steps before crews break ground on the new shelter. Completion is tentatively planned for December 2016.

The Eastern Family Resource Center and Shelter is one of four homeless shelters the county owns. The others are a domestic violence shelter, the Hannah More Shelter for women and families in Reisterstown and the Westside Men's Shelter at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville.

The county will open a replacement men's shelter at Spring Grove later this month that will house up to 154 men.

The county owns the four shelter buildings, but all are operated by nonprofits contracted by the county. There also are several other nonprofit shelters and supportive housing programs in Baltimore County.


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