Six years ago, the Plan to End Homelessness adopted by the Howard County Board to Promote Self-Sufficiency recommended a housing-first approach in addressing the county’s chronically homeless.
County officials met with nonprofit partners last month to break ground on a new facility designed with this approach in mind.
The Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center, located adjacent to the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Guilford Road, in Jessup, will provide 35 efficiency apartments for the chronically homeless when completed in 2017. It will also provide a new home for the Route 1 Day Resource Center (DRC), operated by Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, in partnership with the county’s faith community and other volunteers.
“This is the kind of project that defines community, [and] says something about who we are,” said State Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Dist. 13). “I’m proud that we’re willing to stand up to build this facility and make sure we don’t turn a blind eye on folks who are down on their luck.”
The combined services and housing facility has faced opposition from communities in southern Howard County, but has received backing from two administrations on both sides of the political aisle.
Former County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, abandoned original plans to develop the facility at the site of the former Beechcrest Mobile Home Park, along Route 1 near Whiskey Bottom Road, due to space and terrain constraints; current County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican, supported Ulman’s decision to build the facility in its new location.
“This is all about giving people opportunity to get back on track,” Kittleman said. “It’s what we need to do as a community; it’s the way we need to come together. They can focus on improving their lives as opposed to how to get through each day.”
According to Grassroots Executive Director Andrea Ingram, the DRC has served more than 1,000 individuals during the past eight years and is now struggling to provide adequate services in space that is limited, outdated and on the block for redevelopment.
“The Day Resource Center started because we were seeing people living outside in Howard County who need help today,” she said, and volunteers soon realized that many of the people they see have serious medical problems and also have to deal with the weather.
The DRC is supported through partnership with the business community, charitable organizations and volunteers that include doctors and nurses who donate their time to provide health care.
“The big thing that’s missing was housing,” Ingram said. “You can do all of these things to help, but for people to have stability, have a life and not be left out, they need housing, [so] we’re really looking forward to our new partnership with Volunteers of America,” the Virginia-based nonprofit organization that will manage the facility’s residential program.
Russ Snyder, president and CEO of Volunteers of America (VOA), is also a Howard County resident.
“Our development team worked with the Howard County Housing Commission to come up with the design,” he said, estimating construction time at approximately 15 months.
VOA will provide round-the-clock security, case management and property management.
In an earlier interview with The Business Monthly, Snyder said the number of units is based on the number of housing vouchers the county has available and estimated a facility operating cost of about a half-million dollars annually.
The facility will provide 27 efficiency units on the second floor and eight on a smaller third floor, with residents who are employed required to pay 30% of their adjusted gross income in rent.
“We don’t make money on this,” Snyder said. “We’ll be operating this on funds we might raise or might get through the Housing and Urban Development program or through the county, if they have funds.”
According to Howard County Housing Commission Director Tom Carbo, the state and the county are each providing $4.5 million for the project, which will cost approximately $10 million to develop. The county also provided the land and set aside the necessary Section 8 vouchers.
“Financing comes from multiple sources,” Carbo said. “We’ve received an element from the Housing Commission, a major portion from the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development [and] from the Federal Home Loan Bank, as well as community Development Block Grant funds from the county and bond funding from the state of Maryland.”
County Councilman Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) said the county’s recently approved $1.8 billion budget could pay for a lot of necessities, “but its things like this that express our values that make us a true community,” he said. “Years ago, we began having a real conversation about how to address homelessness … and we said if we can’t eradicate homelessness in Howard County, it can’t be done anywhere.”
The new facility is named for local civil rights advocate Leola Dorsey, who served as the first female president of the Howard County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1940s and also served on the Howard Community College Board of Trustees for 14 years.
“She was not a one-faceted person; she was involved in the community all the way around,” Kittleman said. “In fact, she and [her husband] Remus were the ones that got my Dad involved in the Civil Rights Movement.”
Recalling his own encounters with Dorsey, “I remember Leola always told me she zigs and she zags,” Kittleman said of his recommendation to name the facility in her honor. “This [project] has been zigging and zagging, too. Because Leola was there for us whenever we needed her, we will be there for those in need of us.”