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New housing comes to Argyle Avenue

The construction site on Argyle Avenue in West Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood is active. Hard hats are required in the brown brick complex where an innovative type of housing is being readied for 12 single occupants.

When Sojourner Place at Argyle is completed in the fall, it will house 12 homeless individuals.

They will not have to promise to pass drug and alcohol tests. They might not have jobs. They will have to be screened and approved by the nonprofit Heath Care for the Homeless. The Episcopal Housing Corp. is the project’s owner and developer.

Sojourner Place is defined as permanent, supportive housing for the formerly homeless who are just coming in off the street. Counselors will meet with residents in their apartments or in a community room. It’s the hope that this small community will offer strength and confidence to the tenants.

The goal here at Argyle and Lafayette avenues is to create a village of mutual support where people formerly living precarious lives will have a secure environment and become productive members of the neighborhood.

“We think it’s a great location,” said Shannon Snow, Episcopal Housing’s projects director. “It’s near Pennsylvania Avenue with its buses and subway. There are pharmacies and grocery stores and a city market. It’s a very central location. And we think that 12 units is the right size.”

Lawanda Williams of Health Care for the Homeless said, “We feel there is a strength in this community. It is important for our people, the homeless, to connect to a residential neighborhood. We want our people to say, ‘I belong here. I am wanted here.’ ”

Argyle Avenue is marked both by vacant homes and pockets of newly constructed housing. Singer Billie Holiday lived a block away in the 1920s. Her statue is visible from the back of the Sojourner Place property.

The city of Baltimore sold Episcopal Housing six lots for $6,000 where six rowhouses, demolished in the 1990s, once stood.

“The price was right,” Snow said.

The rest of the $2.2 million budget was met by her agency, Baltimore City Home Funds, the Maryland Partnership Rental Housing program, the Weinberg Foundation, Project CORE, the United Way of Central Maryland and the Bank of America.

Sojourner Place’s residents will pay rent based on the income they receive from disability checks.

“Typically, a disability check is $735 a month, and many of the homeless have a poor work history,” Williams said. “Baltimore City apartments are about $700 to $1,500 a month. So, on a disability check you cannot afford a market-rate apartment. That is why Sojourner Place will help house our people.”

Residents will pay about a third of their income for rent.

Health Care for the Homeless is creating a waiting list for Sojourner Place, Williams said, but not all of her organization’s clients are ready to make the jump to apartment living in the Upton neighborhood.

“We will find the people who we believe will be comfortable living in this setting,” she said.

Her colleague, Jan Caughlan, behavioral health vice president at Heath Care, said, “One of the barriers to people who are experiencing homelessness is that they in fact have a community on the streets. When we pluck them out, they lose that community.”

“Sojourner Place is a model. It’s seen nationally as a best practice for the homeless,” said Episcopal Housing’s Snow. “It’s housing without a set of preconditions. We don’t want our people to fail. We want to house them.”

The advocates for the homeless stress that the path from the living on the streets to living in a one-bedroom Sojourner Place apartment is not a straight one.

“It’s rare that people experiencing homelessness don’t want to be housed,” Caughlan said. “It’s not rare that they are afraid to be housed.”

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