Operator relinquishing control of family shelter


The operator of a Baltimore County homeless shelter criticized for its treatment of residents will relinquish control when its contract expires in June, local officials say.

Community Building Group Ltd. -- a nonprofit corporation that closed a separate transitional housing program last year amid similar complaints -- did not apply to renew its contract at the Hannah More site in Reisterstown, said a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.

Starting in July, the 40-bed emergency shelter -- one of two for families in the county -- is likely to be operated by the nonprofit Risk Foundation.

The foundation, which runs three shelters in East Baltimore, was the only organization to apply to operate the Hannah More program. If the foundation agrees to meet county requirements, the department will recommend that the County Council approve the contract, worth up to $270,000 a year in public money, said Maureen Robinson, the Department of Social Services spokeswoman.

Kathleen McDonald, president of Community Building Group, did not give a specific reason for the organization's decision not to seek a renewal of its contact. "We just didn't want to do it," she said.

McDonald declined to comment on criticism from the Homeless Persons Representation Project, an advocacy group.

Lawyers from that group have complained that residents at Hannah More have been locked out of the shelter, denied use of the phone for emergency calls, intimidated by staff members and singled out for dismissal on trumped-up charges. They also maintain that the shelter's process for hearing grievances and appeals of disciplinary decisions is unfair.

Francine K. Hahn, an attorney for the advocacy group, said the Hannah More staff's approach is "demoralizing" to residents.

"They do not have an understanding of the population. The way they treat people is based on the premise that when you are in poverty, there is something wrong with you," Hahn said.

Johnice Powell-Lewis, a 30-year-old woman who lived at the shelter in January and February, said, "The staff was more concerned with terminating people than helping them. They didn't like me because I spoke up."

Hahn described the apparent selection of Risk Foundation as "a step in the right direction." She said her organization initially had concerns about some of the foundation's policies at its Baltimore shelters, but foundation officials "took to heart the things we were saying."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad