St. Patrick's Day snow shows warmth of Howard's shelter program

It was a morning to stay inside and enjoy a pancake breakfast. And that's exactly what participants of Howard County's cold weather shelter program did on Monday.

The rare mid-March -- March Madness? -- snow closed Howard County schools, the Howard County Library System and put liberal leave into effect for the county's government employees. (Schools will open two hours late on Tuesday.)


It also brought out the best of members of the Linden Linthicum Church, who kept their doors open until 10 a.m. and cooked breakfast for those who had spent the night to escape winter's lasting grip.

Perhaps as something of a surprise, Howard County's Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center hasn't noticed an uptick in people using its cold weather shelter program this winter, even though there have been many more nights that participants have needed a warm place to sleep.


But because of the snow, many of the congregations who participate in the shelter program -- which runs for a period of 18 weeks and rotates among hosts every one or two weeks -- have been allowing people to stay later in the morning or throughout the day.

"Our congregations have been very, very flexible," said Anna Katz, the administrative coordinator of
Grassroots' cold weather shelter program. "That way, our folks don't have to be out in the elements."

Katz said the program usually accommodates about 75 people a year, and this year they've had 74.

"It's been pretty much the same -- the only issue has been all the snow we've been getting," she said.

Snow on Mondays can be particularly challenging, Katz added, because that's when the shelter program moves to its next location.

She said churches can accommodate between 20 and 25 people, and the rest are put up in motels to keep warm. Grassroots is reimbursed by the county for the cost of the rooms.

The cold weather shelter program will end this year on March 30, but Katz said Grassroots will continue to shelter anyone who needs it if there is a declared code blue emergency.