Motel shelter project running out of cash Grassroots provides emergency refuge


The county's motel emergency shelter program is about to run out of money.

Intended to provide temporary help for the homeless, the program has has spent $24,000 to house 84 families during the last four months. That leaves just $3,000 to pay for motel rooms through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, said Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, the non-profit agency that runs the program.

Grassroots has been managing the motel shelter program since Nov. 1, using it as a backup when the organization's 32-bed Columbia shelter is full. Two full-time case managers work with the motel clients, helping them find housing or jobs.

The program is funded with $65,000 of the county's $146,000 Homeless Care Services grant, which also includes some state money. Originally $21,000 in grant money was set aside to pay for the motel stays, but an additional $6,000 federal grant boosted the total to $27,000, Ms. Ingram said.

Clients stay at the Copper Stallion Inn in Elkridge or the Westgate Motor Hotel just over the Baltimore County line in Catonsville. The motels provide rooms to shelter clients at reduced rates: $25 at the Westgate, $20 at the Copper Stallion. The maximum stay is eight weeks.

In an attempt to sustain the program until the 1994 budget year begins July 1, Ms. Ingram has managed to add $6,000 for motel placement by juggling money.

She took $2,000 from the $3,000 food budget, because Grassroots receives enough food donations to serve the motel clients. Another $4,000, earmarked for a part-time clerical position which has remained vacant, has also gone into the fund to pay for motel stays, she said.

In the meantime, Ms. Ingram is applying for $1,000 in private grant money and plans to write to all county churches asking each of them to contribute $175 each, which would pay for a week of shelter in a motel.

"One way or another, we'll make it," Ms. Ingram said.

In addition to seeking more money for the motel shelter program, the county has tightened its eligibility guidelines.

Under the new rules, able-bodied individuals and couples without children who are not working in Howard County are not eligible for motel shelter. Grassroots staff members will help these people find shelter elsewhere, Ms. Ingram said.

If a shelter client with no children is working in the county, the client will now be required to pay half of the motel bill and Grassroots will pay the rest, Ms. Ingram said. Also excluded from the program under the new guidelines are people who have been evicted from subsidized housing because of drug activity, she said.

Since Grassroots began managing the motel shelter program in November, caseworkers have discovered that some people have tried to use the program as a way to bypass the waiting list for federally subsidized Section 8 housing, Ms. Ingram said.

There are about 1,000 people on the county's Section 8 waiting list and the average wait is about three years. However a person identified as being involuntarily homeless may be placed on a separate list, with a wait of about six months, Ms. Ingram said.

In a few cases, people have obtained shelter through the program so they could be officially classified as homeless, in an attempt to avoid the longer Section 8 list, Ms. Ingram said.

"We're here to help people who are really in a valid, true emergency who don't have an alternative place to be," Ms. Ingram said. "People are creating what look like emergencies, but are not," Ms. Ingram said.

Since November, the motel program has handled 84 cases or 101 people. Many of the cases are single-parent families with children. Las month, for instance, the motel program saw 17 new cases, 14 of them with children.

Of those 84 cases, 72 have been discharged and 20 of the cases have been transferred to the Grassroots shelter.

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