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Catonsville

County's new shelter in Catonsville offers welcome space to address growing problem

Hoping to address what Baltimore County officials see as a growing problem, the county cut the ribbon on the new home of the Westside Men's Shelter before a mix of county officials, community members and homeless advocates gathered on the Spring Grove Hospital Center campus in Catonsville Thursday morning.

"This is not the county that a lot of people nostalgically think of from the '50s and '60s," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said at the ceremony officially opening the building.

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told the crowd that homelessness is a growing problem in the area.

Currently, he said, the county's four shelters only have enough space to house one out of every three Baltimore County homeless residents.

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"It's a real issue," he said. "It's a real problem."

The new shelter building is located on the south side of the Spring Grove campus. It has enough beds to accommodate 154 men, according to a release from the county.

In addition, the space includes a medical facility, a laundry room, a social room, a room with computers and a garden, the release said.

The cost of the construction for the 15,000 square-foot facility was $3.4 million, the county release said.

The building replaces the shelter, which was located on the north side of the Spring Grove campus, not far from Frederick Road. That site, which consisted of a grouping of trailers, contained 110 beds. It will become the site of a $1.3 million county recreational park.

Tony Coffield, director of the Community Assistance Network, which operates the Westside Men's Shelter along with the Eastside Family Shelter, in Rosedale, said the quality of the new shelter is indicative of the county's commitment to helping its homeless residents.

"The facility itself is just amazing," he said after the ceremony. "Just the spirit of the building is going to be an enhancement to the quality of life [of shelter residents]."

With 50 percent more beds and about three times more space than the old facility, he said the building will help the organization better serve those in need.

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In a communal environment like a shelter, he said, space makes all the difference.

For the residents, the building "gives them a lot of hope," he said. "Somebody is paying attention to us."

Shelter resident Randolph Watts II already has an appreciation for the new building. He and his 18-year-old son arrived at the Westside Men's Shelter's old building in May. Last week, they moved into the new facility. While a shelter is not the ideal place for his family, he said, the new building goes a long way in making the experience a more positive one.

"I'd rather have my son here than him being on the street," he said after the ceremony. "This is excellent."

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With a number of residents coming to the shelter with issues involving addiction or mental health, he said, the added space of the new building is the biggest difference-maker.

Now, he said, there is enough space to find a quiet place when he needs one and enough space for residents to get away from one another if tensions get high.

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Eugene Boyd, another resident, arrived at the shelter three days ago. He attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and cheered when he heard the advocates and staff he knows recognized by the various county officials present.

"It's real nice," he said of the building. "It's peaceful."

During the ceremony, Kamenetz presented a certificate to Georgia Brown, wife of the late shelter manager Jon Brown, who died in the winter after suffering a heart attack at work, in recognition of her husband's service to the county's homeless.

Megan Goffney, CAN's director of homeless and housing services, told the ceremony attendees about Brown's mission to treat the men who came through his shelter with dignity and respect.

"This building does just that," she said.


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