Amid a crowd of nearly 100 people, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman unveiled the Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center on Monday, joined by Howard County Housing Commissioner Peter Engel, state Sens. Gail Bates and Guy Guzzone and several other officials.
"This is proof that good things happen," Kittleman said during his remarks, calling the opening of the center a "really special day."
The facility, located near Guilford Road in Jessup, includes 35 permanent residences and a first-floor day resource center, operated by Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. Kittleman first broke ground on the center last June, as part of his pledge to end homelessness in the county.
The new building replaces the Day-Resource Center near the Laurel-Jessup border, which serviced an average of 80 people per day, Grassroots Executive Director Ayesha Holmes said during the opening. The Leola Dorsey Center will service an average of 100 to 120 people per day.
The day resource center will provide services including hot meals, medical exams and counseling and will have an area for clothing giveaways.
Several speakers at the unveiling paid tribute to the building's namesake, Leola Dorsey, a civil rights leader and activist in Howard County who grew up down the road from the new center. Dorsey's son Charles, who was among several family members at the event, said his mother would have "loved this building."
Bates said she was "thrilled to death" that her friend Dorsey's legacy was being honored at the center. She spoke fondly of Dorsey's life and generosity, saying that the activist spent her life "doing things for people to make them feel special."
"[She had] a heart as big as all outdoors," Bates said.
Several officials also paid tribute to former Howard County Housing Commissioner Tom Carbo, who died in November 2016. Kittleman said the center "wouldn't be here" without Carbo, who fought to ensure people had stable housing and basic needs.
Russ Snyder, president of Volunteers of America Chesapeake, recalled that he received his first email from Carbo about the center back in 2011, and that the former commissioner remained integral in the planning of the center until his death.
With its ability to serve more than 100 people a day, Engel noted that the center is able to serve at least half of the county's homeless population on any given day. There were 214 homeless individuals in Howard County in 2016, according to state data.
The idea for the new center grew out of a recommendation from the county's Plan to End Homelessness in 2010, which outlined goals for the county in tackling situational homeless — which occurs when stable individuals and families cannot afford housing due to job loss, injury or other disaster — and chronic homelessness, which often involves individuals with mental illness and substance abuse problems.
According to the report, Howard County has primarily struggled with situational homeless.
The center's 35 permanent residence units are also aimed at utilizing the "housing first" approach encouraged in the report, based on the concept that when an individual has stable housing, they are able to focus more energy on other tasks such as finding employment.
While the center is a strong step forward in eradicating homelessness in Howard County, County Council chairman Jon Weinstein said that the county is not finished with its work on the issue. Weinstein called the center's opening a "step in the process" of ending homeless, but that it does not solve the issue.
"We're not done," he said.