Baltimore County’s Progress in Its First Year

By Dan Baldwin | May 10, 2011

Out front of Eastern Family Resource Center

Eastern Family Resource Center is the only shelter run by the county in eastern Baltimore County. Shelter is provided to women, single mothers and families. Photo by Dan Baldwin

The number of homeless in Baltimore County has risen throughout the years and many have little faith in the county’s plan to put an end to homelessness in the next decade.

Homelessness has increased nearly 25 percent in 2010 according to Baltimore County’s biannual homeless census when volunteers found 788 people who were homeless.  This year volunteers were able to find 881 people.  Nearly an 11 percent increase.

Homelessness is a serious issue that every member in the community needs to notice, said Charmaine Short shelter manager for the Eastern Family Resource Center, a shelter that caters to single women and families.  In our current economy anyone can face homelessness.

“If you lose your job, you lose your house,” Short said.  “Then you come and see us.”

In a fact sheet created and distributed by the county, simply called “Facts About Homelessness in Baltimore County,” job loss is the number one cause of homelessness.  Also, many households are only two paychecks or a medical illness away from becoming homeless.

Short also said that in order to further help the homeless, the community needs to be more interactive in the process.  In order to provide disabled individuals with permanent housing they would have to be grouped together in housing complexes.  But it is unlikely that the community would want such a complex in their backyard.

Housing complexes are essential to get most homeless individuals into permanent housing.  Most homeless suffer from either mental illness or physical disability.  Without proper supervision, individuals will forget to take their pills or pay their rent and find themselves back on the street.

“It’s a vicious cycle.  People generally move from here to a more permanent housing,” Short said.  “But because of their mental or physical disabilities they lose their house and come back to the shelters.  I don’t see how that is permanent housing.”

Both Short and Tony Mazzaro, Eastern Family Resource Center volunteer and resident, said the shelters need to focus more on the quality of support than the quantity.

“The problem is they group everyone together,” Mazzaro said.  “They need to separate people who are homeless from losing their job from people who are homeless from mental illness or other disability.  The same program can’t be used to give both groups the help they need.”

Baltimore County Homeless Services Coordinator, Sue Bull, strongly disagrees.  Bull said grouping people together is not the answer and the county needs to increase one-on-one support with case workers.  She also said that grouping everyone with mental illness together would only lead to total chaos.

It is going to be a slow process but the county is aiming to put a limit on an individual’s stay in county shelters, Bull said.  Shelters could be limiting their residents to 60 to 90 day stays working with them to find more permanent housing.

Both Short and Mazzaro agree that they aren’t too concerned with limited amount of beds offered in the county.  With too many beds they said it is more like herding cattle than trying to help people.  At the end of the day, it is about helping people.

Virgil Harvey, 77, is a Korean War veteran and has been homeless off and on for over a year and a half.  Harvey spent three months living at the Nehemiah House, the only shelter for homeless men in eastern Baltimore County in Rosedale, Md., and preferred the alternative of sleeping in his car.

“The food is terrible,” Harvey said.  “There were 12 men in the room I was in.  Trying to get some sleep with all the noise that was going on was impossible.  I’m 77 years old.  I don’t need that kind of stress in my life.”

Conditions of Nehemiah House

Although Harvey currently lives in an apartment, he knows he isn’t too far from living on the streets.

“I’m not really homeless right now,” he said.  “I have a place to stay.  But I don’t have any money for food and gas.  My income is so low that I just can’t make it.”

Harvey is part of the vicious cycle.  Even though he has a roof over his head he hasn’t been able to pay his gas and electric bill for the past two months.  Soon he knows he will be living back in his car scrapping money together for a week in a hotel room.

Homelessness in Baltimore County is an issue for those affected by it, hope for a permanent solution.  But at the same time, have lost faith in their government waiting for that solution.

Baltimore County Works to End Homelessness

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Homelessness in Baltimore County has increased in recent years.  Which is why the county has begun to take measures to eliminate homelessness within the next 10 years.  Read more>>

Creating a Life Out of Nothing

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