YWCA makes offer to take over operation of job training center for homeless women; Current provider plans to close Owings Mills unit


The YWCA of Greater Baltimore offered yesterday to take over the Elan Vital Center, an Owings Mills job training program for homeless women that last week announced plans to close amid government reviews of its policies.

The YWCA could assume operation of the 20-bed facility by the anticipated closing date of Oct. 29 "if the funding is in place," said Rosalyn Branson, the organization's chief executive officer.

"It's the kind of work we do," said Branson, whose organization runs a job training center in Glen Burnie and shelters in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Another homeless services provider also has expressed interest in assuming operation of the taxpayer-funded program, said Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Social Services. Robinson would not name that provider.

The YWCA's offer came three days after Elan Vital officials said the program was closing because residents were creating an "unruly and uncontrollable situation."

Officials at Community Building Group Ltd., the nonprofit corporation that operates Elan Vital, defended the highly structured program and noted a 98 percent job placement rate for graduates. But a lawyer for several Elan Vital residents has complained that the program was "run like a prison."

The Department of Social Services is reviewing allegations that the program failed to deliver promised services, illegally evicted women from their apartments and forced them to perform manual labor as punishment. Similar reviews are under way at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, both of which provide funding for Elan Vital.

HUD visit set for today

A representative of HUD is scheduled to visit Elan Vital today.

County officials said Elan Vital's closing would reduce by more than half the number "transitional housing" beds in the county's network of homeless services. After last week's announcement, social workers began seeking new homes for residents. Many are mothers of young children and victims of domestic abuse.

Robinson said it is possible Community Building Group could reverse course and stay open, but the department is willing to talk with any interested providers.

"We're trying to figure out what it would take in terms of the funding, so we can have an articulate conversation," she said.

Community Building Group holds a 40-year lease on the buildings at Rosewood Center, a state facility for the mentally retarded. The lease requires payments of $1 a year plus utilities, said Elizabeth Barnard, director of planning and capital funding for the state health department.

She said state officials would review the lease terms to see whether another provider could take over the facility.

Funding change possible

An official at HUD, which has provided more than $2.6 million in grants to Elan Vital, said the funding could be changed to allow for a new provider.

"It's not so overwhelming that it can't be done," said Harold D. Young, state coordinator and senior community builder for HUD.

The YWCA operates an emergency shelter in Arbutus, and it formerly operated a shelter in Reisterstown.

The organization pulled out of the Reisterstown site this year, saying it could not longer afford to run the shelter. Community Building Group took over operations there this month.

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