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Homelessness Not a Weekday Job


Human Services Programs Inc. is again struggling to keep one of its homeless shelters operating. Due to a tight budget, HSP may have to operate its only overnight shelter in Westminster on weeknights only. On nights it is open, the homeless people will have to leave by 6:30 a.m. On weekends, the shelter will be closed.

This is intolerable. Homelessness is a seven-day-a-week phenomenon. Women can't check to ensure that it is a weekday when they leave their abusive spouses. When landlords evict tenants, their only concern is getting them out of their property, not whether it is Saturday or Sunday. Many mentally ill people needing shelter are so disoriented they don't know what month it is, let alone the day of the week. Moreover, putting people who have no other shelter out on the street in the dark in the middle of winter is cruel.

These cutbacks are not of HSP's choosing. A lack of money is forcing the organization's hand. HSP's superhuman effort to care for Carroll's homeless needs more support than it is receiving. Every year, the organization cobbles together a bare-bones budget that often runs out toward the end of the fiscal year. Two years ago, a generous gift of $30,000 from an anonymous donor kept the three shelters from closing.

With the local homeless problem growing as federal and state social programs are pared to the bone -- witness the state's cutback in the Disability Assistance and Loan Program -- the county can't afford to have its only organization dealing with homelessness itself living hand to mouth. This financial uncertainty puts a great deal of strain on the staff that runs these shelters. Not only do the people with which they deal come in with seemingly intractable problems, the staff finds itself having to scramble to provide bare necessities. It still costs $28 a day to provide a homeless person with a bed, a meal and clean place to bathe.

At the moment, HSP is waiting to find out whether it will receive a $1 million federal grant to build and operate a new overnight shelter. This money would settle some of the uncertainty HSP faces. However, like other non-profit social service agencies, it will still require a steady stream of cash to take care of Carroll's most needy. If this organization can't fulfill its mission, the evidence will be obvious.

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