Hackerman plans shelter for Howard's homeless


A Towson businessman has offered to convert a local building into a transitional shelter for homeless women and their children in Howard County.

Willard Hackerman, president of the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., met last week with County Executive Charles I. Ecker, housing officials and homeless advocates to present his proposal.

Mr. Ecker announced the project Friday at an awards ceremony for county grant-in-aid recipients. He said he wanted to get the word out that the county is looking for a building to convert into a shelter.

"I think it's very wonderful of this individual to do this," Mr. Ecker said. "He realizes there are people who are down and out and in need, and he's willing to give them a helping hand."

Mr. Hackerman, a close friend of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, has backed similar shelters in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore city. He could not be reached for comment.

Under his proposal, a structure, which has not yet been selected, would be converted into 10 to 20 apartments for homeless women and their children. The shelter would be an intermediate step between a stay in an emergency homeless shelter and independent living.

Although the project details have not yet been worked out, most transitional shelters offer residents long-term stays of about a year while they work, attend job training or school.

"I think it's an excellent idea if the right property is selected," said county Housing Director Leonard Vaughan, who attended last week's meeting with Mr. Hackerman.

"There's a definite need for this type of facility, and to get someone to bear a significant part of the cost will be an ideal situation for the county," Mr. Vaughan said.

Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, a private nonprofit agency that runs a homeless shelter in Columbia, said that at any time, two-thirds of the agency's residents are families with children. The majority of the households are headed by single women.

Grassroots runs a 12-bed transitional shelter and a 20-bed emergency shelter. The agency also provides shelter to between 10 and 20 families in its emergency shelter program at area motels.

Grassroots applied in May for a federal grant to renovate a county-owned building in Ellicott City to house homeless women and their children. If the grant comes through, the agency plans to convert the 12-bed transitional shelter to a shelter for homeless men.

Ms. Ingram said that Mr. Hackerman's proposal is "obviously a tremendous offer and one the county can't turn down."

Mr. Ecker said that Mr. Hackerman told him that he wanted to give something back to the community and hoped to establish similar projects in every county in the state.

Mr. Vaughan said the county will soon begin a search to find a property for Mr. Hackerman's project.

If the county located a vacant building, Mr. Vaughan estimated it would cost between $40,000 and $80,000 to construct and renovate each apartment unit.

In a similar project currently under way in Baltimore County, Mr. Hackerman contributed $450,000 to renovate one of two vacant buildings at the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills. Renovation on the other building is being financed by $1.14 million in loans and grants from the county, state and federal governments.

The center, scheduled to open in September, will be managed by the Maryland Housing Research Corp., a nonprofit agency that develops affordable housing.

Mr. Hackerman also converted a two-story former U.S. Army barracks in Fort Meade into a transitional housing shelter in 1989.

It has not been determined who will manage the planned Howard county shelter, but Ms. Ingram said that Grassroots would be "delighted" to run it.

It would seem logical for most of the residents to come to the transitional shelter from the Grassroots emergency shelter, she said. There, staff members can determine whether issues such as parenting problems or substance abuse need to be addressed.

"We've learned that you can't put homeless families directly into a transitional program," Ms. Ingram said. "Sometimes they aren't ready for that level of independence, and you set them up for failure."

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