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Plans for safe house proceed

After two years of discussion and planning, Carroll County's first safe house for victims of domestic violence could open as early as November.

County officials, Human Services Programs of Carroll County and the Carroll office of Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland received preliminary approval on an agreement with the state to establish a comprehensive domestic violence program, including opening a shelter for abuse victims.

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"It is, in many ways, a significant event, and it's been very worthwhile working on this for two years," said Stephen Mood, executive director of Human Services Programs. "We hope it'll be a great program, and it's much needed."

Under the agreement, the Maryland Department of Human Resources would provide money to Carroll County officials, who would contract with Human Services Programs and Family and Children's Services. The three-year agreement calls for $285,000 the first year and possibly $300,000 in the two subsequent years to operate the safe house and provide treatment and support services, said Colleen Baumgartner, the county's grants manager.

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Once details are worked out, county officials and the two organizations hope to finalize the agreement with the state Department of Human Resources in September and open the safe house in November, Mood said.

"This has been a godsend in that there is this money and ... DHR has said Carroll County has a need, and they're working with us closely to make this a reality," said Connie Sgarlata, executive director of the Carroll office of Family and Children's Services.

But money expected from the state falls short of what is needed, Mood said. The two organizations estimated that it would cost about $338,000 a year to operate the safe house and provide treatment and support services for domestic abuse victims. They plan to seek additional money through grants.

For years, pastors, social workers and criminal investigators have called a shelter in Carroll County a pressing need.

"The community response has been extremely positive and well-received," Mood said.

Abuse victims are now taken to temporary shelters inside and outside the county. Family and Children's Services receives about $80,000 a year from the state Department of Human Resources to provide services for domestic violence victims.

This year, a local group agreed to lease to the county a 3,100-square-foot house for $1 a year for three years. The location of the safe house is not revealed for security reasons.

The agreement with the Department of Human Resources would let Family and Children's Services provide on-site support for victims at the safe house, Sgarlata said. The three-bedroom house would serve eight people and include around-the-clock staffing and security.

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"To have someone literally there when you wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares ... you have staff there being supportive," Sgarlata said.

While they await final approval from the state, the two organizations are soliciting donations, such as kitchen items and furniture, and making plans to get the safe house ready for its first occupants, she said.

The county, meanwhile, has begun looking at possible sites for a permanent safe house, said Jolene Sullivan, director of the county Department of Citizen Services.


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