After years of work by volunteers and professionals, a safe house in Carroll County will open for the new year to shelter women and children from domestic violence.
Sheriff's deputies and other volunteers have been painting and spackling, hanging curtains and finishing electrical work on the house in the final weeks leading up to the opening, said Joan S. McKee, deputy director of the nonprofit Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc.
"We plan to open Jan. 3," said McKee, who has been working to get the house ready.
Carroll is the only county in the Baltimore metropolitan area that does not have a domestic violence shelter, county and state officials said.
"We could have filled it this weekend: We had a mother and three kids in," McKee said recently, preparing for another evening's work at the house. "People were making do because there was nothing here. Other folks in the community were working on it for years."
Then, last month, the Carroll shelter program received $885,000 for three years of operation from the state Department of Human Resources' Office of Victim Services.
According to the office's domestic violence program directory, 13 of the state's 24 jurisdictions have shelters -- some more than one -- and there are two multijurisdictional safe houses for eight Eastern Shore counties.
That leaves Carroll, Charles and St. Mary's counties without access to domestic-violence shelters, said Adrienne E. Siegel, director of victim services in DHR's Community Services Administration.
"There's a growing need in all of the counties that don't have shelters," Siegel said. More beds are also needed at current shelters, she said.
In Carroll, "it's been a labor of love on the part of those organizations that are based in Carroll County government, and organizations that are private nonprofit ... working together to bring something to the county that is so much needed," Siegel said.
For years, Carroll agencies have had to seek temporary housing inside and outside the county, said Connie Sgarlata, director of the Carroll Office of Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland.
She said that under a new agreement, the state will give money to the county, which has a contract with her office and Human Services Programs to operate the shelter.
The county obtained a $1-a-year lease for three years on a three-bedroom house that can hold eight people, said Sgarlata. Its location has not been disclosed for safety reasons.
The shelter will include around-the-clock staffing, security, counseling and legal advocacy in court, officials said. Women can stay for as long as two months, with exceptions for extenuating circumstances.
"These cases have become higher risk ... more and more volatile," Sgarlata said. "So the need for a safe location has become much more vital."
Carroll County Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning agreed.
"The facility is certainly needed here in Carroll County, and I totally support it. Several of our personnel have volunteered -- spackling, painting and cleaning up, odd jobs," he said. "I credit the leaders who have worked hard for this."
State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said, "It's a long overdue additional resource that's going to be incredibly beneficial to individuals that find themselves embroiled in these kinds of situations, which are incredibly difficult in every respect.
"That's one of the most important resources that you can provide: a refuge of safety."
Family and Children's Services has been receiving about $80,000 a year from the state to pay for temporary placements, Sgarlata said, but secure locations are limited and sometimes difficult to find. Homeless shelters cannot be used because their locations are known, creating a potential danger to everyone there.
"The police and sheriff know where it is," she said of the safe house. Unlike a rented room, she said, "here, at 3 a.m. you will have somebody to talk to."
Of the delay, Sgarlata said, "The state has really worked hard with us to get it going." It was not lack of cooperation but "bureaucracy, hoops to get through."
Jolene G. Sullivan, director of the Carroll County Department of Citizen Services, said the county commissioners "are very, very committed to the concept.
"Creating a safe house where someone can come and feel safe again and get their lives back on track, I think, is a priority," Sullivan said. "And it's unfortunate that it's taken this long to create such a site.
"Being safe in your home and having your family safe, I think, is foremost in everybody's minds, and I think living in fear, trying to provide a safe environment for your family -- if that's taken away, there's a vulnerability that comes to the surface."
The county and the nonprofits won't know how many people need shelter until the safe house has been open a while, Sullivan and others said.
"Once word gets out, once professionals in the community know it is an option -- an ideal option that's come to be -- there will be more referrals," Sgarlata said. "If we're full all the time, we can say we need more space."
Another site is being planned.
"We will still be looking for a permanent place in about three years, maybe to build or renovate another place, to have a larger facility," Sgarlata said.