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Nonprofit groups gain additional county money


A year ago, officials at one of Howard County's primary homeless shelters were worried about how to fund a badly-needed shelter for single men who often had to sleep in the shelter's lobby or be sent to other counties for lack of space.

Now, Grassroots Inc. of Columbia is moving ahead with plans to open a 12-bed shelter this fall that can serve 70 to 75 single men a year, made possible in part by $54,000 in extra county funds given the agency this year.

"We've been working for this for a long time," said Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots, at a ceremony yesterday highlighting the county's contributions to private, nonprofit agencies. "It is really needed."

The event -- the county's annual grant-in-aid ceremony -- put the spotlight on 26 agencies such as Grassroots that help the poor, elderly and disabled.

It came just a month after county officials approved a budget boosting aid to human service agencies by almost $207,000 over last year, to a total of $2.74 million for the fiscal year that starts tomorrow.

That increase, which averaged 8 percent for most nonprofit agencies, took place against a backdrop of fiscal belt-tightening countywide, including a $4.4 million cut in education funding.

Last year, human service agencies saw a modest $60,000 increase from the county to their programs.

"This is the first substantial increase in grant-in-aid funds in five years," said Manus O'Donnell, director of the Department of Citizens Services, the county agency that oversees the nonprofit groups. "It's a significant increase . . . for meeting the needs of the community."

And for some agencies, such as the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance (URTA), which provides free bus service for the county's elderly, disabled and low-income residents, it comes none too soon.

A $50,000 increase in county funding, along with another $50,000 added to the county's general transportation assistance fund, will let the Columbia agency operate without the restrictions the county placed on it this year.

"We anticipate with the amount of funding this year we should be able to meet the demand," said Bernard Cook, a member of the board that oversees URTA.

In Grassroots' case, Ms. Ingram has been fighting for the past two years to open a shelter for homeless men in Howard County.

Only four of the county's 90 beds for the homeless are available to single men. Some men have had to sleep on Grassroots' lobby floor or be sent to other counties or Baltimore City because of a lack of shelter space in Howard County.

The increased county funds, along with federal funds that are expected to come through this year, will let Grassroots open a men's facility in a Columbia shelter now used for women and children.

The women and children will be moved to a county-owned house in Ellicott City that soon will be renovated. Both moves are expected to take place by this fall.

"It'll be very exciting to see it open," Ms. Ingram said. "There's still a lot of work to do. I would never say that once you open something it takes care of the problem."

Grassroots has been drawing funds from a number of sources in planning for the men's shelter. Last year, United Way of Central Maryland awarded the agency $14,000 a year for two years. And the county set aside an extra $30,000 last year for used when a shelter is set up.

From this year's $54,000 budget increase, Grassroots is designating $29,000 specifically for the men's shelter, and the remainder will pay for other services.

Grassroots' total funding from the county is $661,440 for fiscal year 1996.

URTA will use its increased funding to meet an increasing demand for services, which had threatened to break the agency's budget.

The free transportation system gives rides to the poor, disabled and elderly to their jobs, the grocery store and doctors' appointments.

Last November, the county ordered URTA to limit riders going to doctors' visits to 68 a day. The next month, the URTA was instructed to stop all rides for shopping and recreation.

The county requires nursing homes to pay for URTA bus service for their clients, but other restrictions have been removed. URTA's $632,390 in county funding will pay for 48,321 one-way trips to 735 elderly clients, 170 disabled clients and 250 low-income clients.

"Funding is something the transportation board has been struggling with," said Mr. Cook. Because of the increase, "I don't think the citizens of Howard County will suffer very much."

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