A drop-in center in Westminster has been serving dozens of people daily for the last two years, offering Carroll County’s most vulnerable a place to escape poor weather, enjoy a hot meal and get connected with services.
While the Human Services Programs of Carroll County is responsible for the county’s entire homeless response, the nonprofit has also been offering a day center located in the basement of St. Paul’s Church in Westminster, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., daily, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shut-downs in spring 2020.
HSP Director Scott Yard said the center acts as a “safety net to catch people who are literally out of resources.”
The drop-in center offers activities, access to charging stations, case management services, as well as shelter, televisions and hot dinners nightly. The facility also serves as a warming center during extreme cold weather events for any resident who needs it.
Jenny Graybill, director of shelter, housing and economic mobility with HSP, said the day center opened about two years ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It really caters to our street homeless … people who are living in encampments or our night shelters,” she said. “Our services are really the key. This is a vital touchpoint for those individuals.”
The fully staffed space offers rental assistance, employment programs and financial education, too.
“We want to connect people with services and help move them from being in crisis to becoming thriving community members,” Graybill said. “Our goal is to access long-term solutions to prevent homelessness.”
Since April 1, the center has served a total of 190 unique individuals. In December alone, there were 52 total participants.
“We average about 16 individuals a day and our max is between 22 and 25 patients a day,” Graybill said. “71% of homeless who come into the day center have entered into a traditional shelter bed.”
The facility has been funded by federal American Rescue Plan dollars via the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. While that funding is expected to keep the day center running through April, Celene Steckel, director of citizen services in Carroll County, said after that time the county must assess the need for the facility in the community and pursue other appropriate funding sources to keep it running.
Last year, 431 participants that were homeless or at risk for being homeless were helped by HSP. The organization served 271 homeless participants in the shelter system, and the remainder either left the area or had their eviction prevented.
Yard said HSP’s main goal is to divert homelessness by working with landlords or helping citizens secure security deposits for a new home.
“None of this is possible without our partnerships in Carroll County with the county government and the Department of Citizen Services,” Yard said. St. Paul’s Church also contributes by allowing HSP to use its space.
“We don’t want people out in the woods because it’s dangerous physically, but also no one should be alone in the woods,” Yard said. “We created an alternative that is safe and will lead to more independence and self-sufficiency.”
Yard said although there have been a few COVID outbreaks in the day center, the facility hasn’t yet had to close, temporarily or otherwise.
“Our whole first year we had no COVID,” he said, noting the omicron variant has increased the positivity rate within the shelter. “We wear masks and hold vaccination clinics to minimize the risk for participants and staff.”
Participants are required to engage in a COVID screening process upon entry into the building. A positive screen will require additional testing and services from outside medical staff. Face masks must be worn at all times, except when eating, and participants must also remain 6 feet apart from others.
Yard said the nonprofit owns a separate quarantine building to serve COVID positive individuals. If there is a situation where multiple quarantines are needed, other options are available, such as hotels.
The organization is also offering free tax preparation for individuals who otherwise may not file their taxes because of the costs associated.
“This allows people to learn what is available to them and provide them with income they otherwise would not have,” Yard said. “The service is done by a series of trained volunteers.”
HSP also operates a year-round night shelter located at 127 Stoner Ave., Westminster, which accepts participants at 7 p.m., with stays through 8 a.m., the following morning. Contact 410-386-6679 for more information.
Those interested to donating to HSP can do so by visiting https://hspinc.org/donate-now/.
“We are incredibly grateful to our community support,” Graybill said. “We get so many donations that make it possible for us to provide these services.”