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8 parcels offered as sites for new homeless shelter


County government administrators have offered a non-profit group that runs a shelter for homeless women in Street its pick of eight county-owned sites to start another transitional or emergency shelter.

Barbara Jones, director of the shelter, called ECHCO House, said she is "very excited" about the possibility of opening another shelter.

In April, the county razed a building the group had been promised it could have to start another transitional shelter for the homeless. The building was located next to ECHCO House, the Street shelter the group operates adjacent to the county's central landfill in Scarboro.

On Wednesday, members of Ecumenical Community of Harford County Inc. (ECHCO) toured the sites, all of them abandoned or surplus county properties.

The sites included:

* 40 undeveloped acres at 3300 Scarboro Road in Scarboro.

* 3000 block of Conowingo Road in Scarboro.

* 2000 Watergate Court in Edgewater Village.

* 2044 Watergate Court in Edgewater Village.

* 1024 Gateway Road in Edgewater Village.

* 1030 Gateway Road in Edgewater Village.

* 5051 Cedar Lane in Bel Air.

* Undeveloped land in Joppa, on Trimble Road between Edgewood Road and Route 24.

Robert N. Hockaday Jr., director of government and community relations for the county, said the development of any new shelter

would be subject to the regular planning approval process, including making sure water and sewer needs are met.

He said that if ECHCO is not happy with these sites, there are several others that might work. Hockaday said the county is eager to help ECHCO in its quest to start another shelter.

On Wednesday morning, ECHCO members and several county officials toured the sites, which ranged from raw, undeveloped land to a ramshackle house.

The Rev. Charles W. Lightner, ECHCO's president and pastor of Bel Air United Methodist Church, said shelters, ideally, should be located in the community where the homeless could easily reach them.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of a new homeless shelter in their community. That much was clear Wednesday as the group toured the sites. While ECHCO and county officials toured a vacant grassy lot in Edgewater Village, Ralph DeBlasi, a resident, angrily interrupted the tour.

"We don't want any of those shelters here," he told the group. "We have lots of subsidized housing in this place. There are other places you can put it. Put it in Bel Air!"

DeBlasi told the group he thought existing subsidized housing in the area adversely affects area property values and sales.

Lightner said later the Edgewater Village locations, which already have public water, sewer and roads, seem ideal for the shelter's needs.

The locations, he said, have "everything we want except public opinion on our side."

Lightner did not entirely rule out the possibility of Edgewater Village, however. "The shelter would not be intrusive. It would mostly serve single women with one to three children."

Richard G. Herbig, assistant county attorney, said, "We do not want to do anything that would displease the community. We are sensitive to the feelings of the neighborhood."

Representatives of ECHCO -- which is made up of county religious leaders, Associated Catholic Charities and local businesses -- and county officials met June 11 to discuss possible sites for another shelter after the house was razed by the county to make room for a new transfer station for recycled trash.

ECHCO officials had thought they had an agreement with the county to renovate the house for a shelter. While the group said it had an agreement with the former county executive, Habern W. Freeman, now a state senator, the deal was never put into writing.

ECHCO House, a transitional shelter for homeless women and their children, was started last year. The shelter is operated by Associated Catholic Charities.

Jones said the group's long-range goals include an emergency shelter and additional transitional housing. The county does not currently have an emergency shelter, she said. ECHCO House can only handle eight people at a time.

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