No one should be turned away

The Baltimore Sun

The call came to Greg Sileo's City Hall office on a day in late November. A 22-year-old father needed help. The mother of his two children had left them, he was out of work and homeless; he, his year-old son and 2-year-old daughter had slept in an abandoned house the night before.

Within 48 hours, Mr. Sileo brought to bear all that Baltimore Homeless Services could provide, and the young family moved into a two-bedroom, semi-furnished apartment thanks to a helpful landlord. City social services found day care for the children, so the dad could participate in job training for which he qualified. It was an unusually swift outcome for one homeless family in a city that, for all its attention to the problems of Baltimore's homeless, recently added 50 more emergency shelter beds to ensure people aren't left out in the cold on bitter winter nights.

But those beds, which are in addition to the 350 spots the city shelter provides during the winter, have been in doubt since their funding ran out last week. This occurred as city officials were concluding their annual census of homeless, a count expected to exceed the 2007 estimate of 3,002.

Diane Glauber, director of the city's office of homeless services, attributes the increase to rising unemployment, the foreclosure crisis and a more precise count. Mayor Sheila Dixon has bravely made reducing homelessness a priority. But it remains a challenge because of its vexing, underlying causes of poverty, joblessness and mental illness.

Despite that, the city continues to make strides. It has managed to place 1,335 homeless people in transitional housing that lasts from six months to two years, and during the winter months has available 1,046 shelter beds. Its proposal for a permanent 275-bed shelter on the Fallsway is headed now to the City Council, after officials worked diligently with communities to address their concerns and needs.

But as one advocate put it, "This is a growth industry."

City officials were hopeful that their homeless services provider would receive a $25,000 grant to keep available the 50 overflow beds during the winter season. But no one should be turned away, especially on a bitter cold night.

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