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County gets $86,650 grant for facilities for needy, housing study


Gov. Parris N. Glendening awarded an $86,650 grant to Howard County yesterday for a new classroom for the homeless, two play areas for needy children and a feasibility study on

building more low- and moderate-income rental units in Ellicott City.

"There are people struggling to get their lives back together," Mr. Glendening told a group of about 50 people who gathered for the announcement at the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia. "The role of government is to support people."

After the ceremony, County Executive Charles I. Ecker, said: "Howard County is known as a rich county, yet we have a lot of needy people,"

Nearly $61,000 of the grant money -- part of more than $10.6 million the state has set aside for Community Development Block Grants this fiscal year -- will fund the expansion of a children's playroom at Grassroots and a new portable classroom there.

Because many of the nonprofit agency's homeless clients are single parents with two or three children, there has been a growing need for play space. For children, Grassroots has set aside a 12-by-12-foot room with stuffed toys and building blocks -- as well as a playground with one small slide and a single tire swing. But that usually serves 10 to 15 children at a time.

"We're just cramped for space," Andrea Ingram, executive director for Grassroots said during an interview after yesterday's announcement. "It's bananas."

About $18,000 of the state grant will pay for construction of a new outdoor play area near the county-run, low-income Alffa Pines housing complex in Ellicott City.

The remaining $8,000 will pay for a study to determine whether to construct 18 additional low- and moderate-income rental units in the low-income Hilltop community in Ellicott City, a county-owned housing project.

Each year, as many as 800 people are housed in Howard homeless shelters. Many are often turned away for lack of bed-space in shelters.

The county's three homeless shelters have 90 beds, 28 short-term and 62 long-term. The shelters are operated by three private, nonprofit agencies that receive county and private contributions: Grassroots, the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County and Churches Concerned for the Homeless.

In addition, the county pays for as many as 24 beds in motels, if needed -- something that shelter officials say is needed too often.

They and county officials blame the shelter crowding on Howard's high housing costs. "Land costs so much in Howard County that you can't afford to build low-cost housing," said Manus O'Donnell, director of Howard County Citizens Services, which oversees the county's programs for the poor. "We definitely need more low- and moderate-income housing."

The $8,000 grant for the housing study for the Hilltop community might lead to more county housing for the poor. Hilltop has 94 townhouse and apartment units that are rented to low- and moderate-income tenants.

The county wants to sell 18 Hilltop townhouses to low-income buyers and construct 18 new rental units on an adjacent parcel of land.

The county also has 100 low-income rental units in the Guilford Gardens community in east Columbia.

The problem of the homeless is compounded by a growing waiting list in Howard for federal housing subsidies, with applicants now having to wait up to three years to receive help.

"When you look at Howard County, you tend to look at how wealthy people are," Mr. Glendening said after the ceremony. "But it doesn't mean that there aren't real problems here."

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