Helping Hands Lift the Homeless Back on Their Feet
NOV. 19, 2020
The information in this article was compiled before the emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the ensuing health crisis and economic uncertainty. The circumstances of homelessness have worsened drastically since March of 2020. “At our food pantry [Haven Ministries in Chester, Maryland] we are feeding 100 percent more people in July than we did in January,” says Director & Founder Krista Pettit.
There’s Carl, moving from shelter to shelter during the long, winter months. He lost everything after his wife died of liver disease, leaving him with thousands of dollars in medical bills he couldn’t pay.
There’s Devon, a professional painter, who broke his pelvis and ribs when he fell from a ladder. He is trying to learn a new trade, but meantime, he’s homeless.
And then there’s Sam. He moved here from Texas with his wife and daughters to attend Johns Hopkins University School ofMedicine on a full scholarship. He had a Master’s Degree and a good job in Texas, but he knew he could do more, and medicine was his passion. During his second year of med school, Sam suffered an aneurysm and meningitis. He lost his scholarship, was left penniless, and unable to continue his studies.
Eventually, he lost his wife and daughters, his home, and his future. While living in shelters, he has been studying to become a mental health worker and hopes to establish his own nonprofit to help other folks that have suffered.
These are only a few of the people behind the label, “Homeless.”
Steve Hays, coordinator for the Winter Relief Program at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, has gotten to know some of the men and women who seek shelter through the program’s more than 60 Houses of Worship. He listens to the stories of the homeless and shares their stories with the community, encouraging all of us to appreciate how fragile the safety net is that keeps any of us from a cot in a shelter on a cold winter’s night. (Editor’s note: the names of the homeless mentioned in this article have been changed.)
“People who are struggling, who may be homeless or face losing their homes, want to be seen. They want the dignity of being acknowledged,” observes Sarah Ryan, Volunteer Programs Administrator at The Light House. Dignity is what many organizations and individuals are working hard to offer the men, women, and children in our community who are without a place to live. From the County level, to private and publicly funded organizations, many people in Anne Arundel and Eastern Shore counties are acknowledging those in need and recognizing their value to the community.
There are three dimensions to homelessness; the unsheltered or chronically homeless, the homeless who are being housed temporarily or long-term, and those at risk of homelessness. For each group of homeless folks, there are ways to lend a hand.
Just the Facts, Please
In 2017, (the most recent figures available) over 7,000 men, women, and children were homeless in Maryland on any given day. This number does not include those who were homeless and “couch surfing,” moving in with a friend or relative on a temporary basis; nor does it include the transient homeless who find shelter in hotel rooms and automobiles. Of our state’s 7000 homeless people, almost one-third or more than 2,100 were military veterans. We also know that 1,300 children in Maryland were without permanent shelter, a number large enough to fill two elementary schools.
Anne Arundel County’s homeless population was 1,600-plus according to the 2017 survey. A “Point In Time” survey by the County’s Social Services on January 29, 2020, conducted by Social Services, counted 314 homeless people; of those, 48 were children. The eight counties that makeup the Eastern Shore counted almost 1,800 homeless citizens in 2016.Expand
The struggle to house the homeless is the struggle to provide safe, affordable, long-term housing while residents overcome the circumstances that left them homeless initially. National and State agencies monitor programs, provide statistics, and support federal, state, and local approaches to helping the homeless. Among the organizations monitoring and fighting for the homeless are; the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which includes the Homelessness Research Institute (HRI) and the Center for Capacity Building (CCB), the Maryland Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), and the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group of activists who were themselves formerly or are now homeless. These and other organizations keep statistics on issues facing the homeless and advocate for better regulations, laws, and programs to eliminate homelessness across the country.
Affordable housing gets harder to find in America as property values and rental costs rise while hourly wages remain static in most regions of the country. According to The National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the 2017 Housing Wage (the hourly wage at full-time employment necessary for average housing costs that represent 30 percdent of one’s income) is estimated at $21.21 per hour in Maryland. The Housing Wage exceeds the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour, totally out of reach for low-income workers. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is $10.21 higher than Maryland’s minimum wage of $11.00 an hour.
What About Us?
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman has said, “Government should be measured by how it treats the most vulnerable people in the society.” So, how are we, residents of Anne Arundel and adjacent counties, to be judged? What are we doing to improve the circumstances for the poorest and most vulnerable among us?
Anne Arundel County, for example, has instituted several new programs to make it easier to find long-term and permanent housing for homeless residents. The Anne Arundel Coalition to End Homelessness brings together representatives from 50 of the private, religious, and government entities who are trying to assist the homeless and end homelessness in our area. Justin Bieler, Social Services’ Homeless Coordinator, supervises “Access Housing” and “Street Outreach” programs.
Access Housing works to move the homeless into housing and follow-up with the essential social services to help people stay in their homes. A “Vulnerability Index” has been devised to move folks off the streets and into apartments. This prioritized wait-list moves people up the list based on issues such as length of time homeless, health risks, mental health, and substance use.
Street Outreach and Youth Outreach send social workers out into the community to locate the homeless, access their vulnerability, and help them get the financial and material help they need.
Bieler meets with the AA Coalition to End Homelessness on a monthly basis. “Together we try to devise broader approaches or strategies,” Bieler points out. He recalls one of the encouraging stories, a couple, we’ll call them Dion and Marie, who had lived on the streets or our county since the mid-1990s. Access Housing brought them in, got them vouchers, helped them find an apartment they could afford, and helped them learn to budget and plan so they could continue to live in their own space. After 20 or more years on the streets, Marie and Dion have been in their own apartment for a year, and they’re going strong.
But, government agencies can’t solve this chronic problem alone. In addition to the traditional social services organizations, there are three other significant approaches to addressing homelessness in Anne Arundel County: temporary assistance, long-term aid, and alternative solutions. Here are some of the solutions provided by agencies and organizations whose mission it is to help our region’s homeless:
(often providing long-term aid as well)
Sarah’s House provides emergency housing, life skills training, and transitional housing for those in crisis as well as the chronically homeless. They also take on long-term interventions. Director Kelly Anderson points to the “holistic approach” used by Sarah’s House to help people find homes and work to figure out how best to keep those homes. Sarah’s House offer a “Coordinated Entry Program” that educates clients about budgets, home maintenance, and other skills that are necessary if you want to keep that apartment or room. Sarah’s House has clients as young as 18 and as old as 87, veterans, mentally and physically disabled, recovering addicts, and multi-generational families. “When they finish our 12-week program, we’ve done our best to prepare each person to live safely in an apartment or house,” Anderson observes.
SCAR Foundation (Second Chances After Rehabilitation): Established by Willie and Delores Bullock of the Blessed In Tech Ministries, SCAR Foundation goes into the streets and parks looking out for vulnerable teens and folks recently released from jails and prisons. The Bullocks work to establish trust relationships with these homeless young people, as young as 7 and through their mid-20s. SCAR provides them with temporary shelter and counseling; the Bullocks also help these vulnerable folks connect with other agencies that can provide assistance. To do that, Delores Bullock is Co-Chair, along with Kelly Anderson, of the AA Coalition to End Homelessness.
During the winter of 2019–2020 for the first time, SCAR took on Winter Relief at the Stanton Center. They’re also instituting the “Hip-Hop Program” where they’ll offer a group home for homeless teens between the ages of 16–24. Delores Bullock recalls a quiet pair of kids, Jay and Paula, 16 and 18. She’d been molested by her father; he’d been kicked out of his home. Jay, 16, was too young for Winter Relief, so they slept in unlocked cars or in all-night restaurants. Through Bullock’s connections with the AA Coalition, the young lovers were taken into Sarah’s House, where they were counseled and safe.
Bullock says, “They come to us broken, but we work to make them whole.”
House of Hope’s Winter Relief is one of the outstanding success stories for aiding the homeless. In 1992, the Glen Burnie United Methodist Church, under the leadership of Reverend Olin Herndon, brought together leaders from area churches to establish a sustainable program to help the homeless during the winter months, from October through April. For 28 years, the program has remained an invaluable source of comfort to our region’s homeless with over 60 faith-based organizations participating. Each of the 60-plus organizations houses, feeds, and looks out for the homeless for one week, transporting them to the church’s facility and on to the next sheltering location when their week is done. Usually, two or three organizations are housing groups simultaneously, and some of the 60 organizations volunteer for two weeks. Based on the statistics collected by Winter Relief, during 2017–2018 from October to April, more than 250 homeless men, women, and children received temporary, safe shelter, food, and encouragement. One-third of those homeless guests self-reported as suffering from some form of mental illness. The guests, over 70 percent of whom are men, also reported suffering from physical disabilities, domestic violence, drug abuse, and other significant health conditions.
Light House’s Safe Harbour Resource Center, Emergency Aid and Intervention offers immediate assistance with clothing, food, showers, and laundry as well as counseling and shelter placements. Director Karen Williams sees Safe Harbour as a place where “we meet people where they are, without a time frame [to accomplish a goal and move people on]…Sometimes folks will just come in to be warm, have a cup of coffee, sit where they’re safe. Then, eventually, they’ll want to talk to me, tell me what’s going on. That’s when I can sometimes help. It might be a woman with an eviction notice. In addition to providing resources such as eviction and utility aid, we also sit down and unravel the pieces, get help for the issues, connect her with resources. Hopefully, we can help her overcome the cause,” Williams says. In 2019, over 600 households were “stabilized” by Safe Harbour’s intervention.
Haven Ministries, in Chester, Maryland, on Kent Island, began as a faith-based temporary winter-housing resource 16 years ago, and has grown to serve those in need through two food pantries per month, a retail thrift store, resource centers, an emergency homeless shelter, a street outreach program, an art program, and a retail warehouse with job training and employment opportunities. Haven Ministries is in the process of launching a Housing Assistance Program, which will help provide affordable housing in Queen Anne’s County. Two single family homes will be built for residential use and will transform lives; offering stability, safety, and reliability to those who quite often go without. Long-term assistance is on the way.
Arundel House of Hope, founded in 1992, is an ecumenical organization that has developed and manages a variety of programs and services to aid the homeless. The first and most successful, long running of their programs is Winter Relief. House of Hope also manages job training programs, a medical clinic, substance abuse intervention, and permanent housing. House of Hope currently manages four long-term residences and are preparing to open The Patriot House, a permanent residence for Veterans.
The Light House: A Homeless Prevention Support Center provides emergency aid through the Safe Harbour, as well as a shelter program for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. The Light House mission states, “Our vision is to be a national model for how a community cares for its neighbors experiencing homelessness. We strive to break the cycle of homelessness by providing a place of belonging, life-changing programs, and a broad continuum of support to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The Light House intervenes to ‘break the cycle of homelessness.’” The Light House provides transitional housing in a variety of properties and locations around the city. There are also job training programs and supportive counseling. In 2019, the Light House provided housing for over 250 people, 15 families with 26 children. With a view to the long-term, since 2012 The Light House B.E.S.T. workforce development program has trained 350 people for jobs in trades, and particularly the food industry through their very successful Light House Bistro.
Tameka is one of the many success stories from the Light House’s hands-on employment training. As a homeless mother of small children, she came to the Mission from “a lifetime of trauma, addiction, homelessness, abuse, and a criminal record,” notes Associate Director Lara Ippolito. With help from the Light House, Tameka expunged her criminal record, completed GED classes, and is working full-time in a management position with plans to attend community college. “The Light House was there to lift me up. I’m now able to support myself, spend time with my beautiful children, and plan for a stable future,” Tameka says.
Arundel Community Development Services (ACDS) oversees a variety of programs in the county that are working to provide more housing and aid for low-income people to find permanent homes. ACDS provides services that include homeownership counseling, foreclosure prevention counseling, down payment and closing cost assistance, accessibility modifications, property rehabilitation, and affordable rental units to County residents. Among the signature accomplishments of ACDS was the redevelopment of the Wiley Bates High School into the Wiley Bates Heritage Park, with affordable housing units for seniors, a senior activities center, and a Boys & Girls Club.
Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS) in Easton, Maryland, was founded in 2009 by Julie Lowe in an effort to offer long-term support and services to homeless citizens who were willing to work to acquire and maintain a stable home. TIS is built on the “S4 Principles:” Shelter, Stability, Support, and Success. Partnering with government and faith-based sources, the program offers immediate shelter for up to 35 clients at a time in Eaton’s Promise, a former bed & breakfast. The residents commit to working with members of the TIS staff to acquire the skills necessary to manage their expenses while living an increasingly more independent life.
ACDS oversees a variety of federal and state agencies that encourage and fund programs devised to aid the homeless. Among these supervising agencies are:
HOME Investment: An Investment Partnership Program which approves and oversees Block Grants to programs and nonprofits that plan to provide decent, affordable housing for the poor and homeless.
Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) distributes and oversees grants to states, cities, and counties with plans to develop “viable urban communities,” with decent housing, suitable living environments, as well as programs to expand economic opportunities for low and moderate-income people.
Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) are overseen by HUD to fund plans that develop rapid re-housing and engage homeless individuals and families living on the street, as well as plans to improve the number and quality of emergency shelters for the homeless.
Habitat for Humanity collaborates with local organizations to find locations and build new homes that are affordable for low-income residents. As of 2019, Habitat for Humanity had constructed 127 homes in Anne Arundel County. Accordingly, there are 18 more homes that presently in the works. The program allows interested homebuyers to qualify based on desire to own, income limits, and willingness to work helping to restore an existing house or construct their new home. Mortgages with zero percent interest are arranged, and new homeowners pay no more than 30 percent of their income to satisfy their mortgage.
As this story was researched, I was struck by the increasing numbers of seniors who are homeless, as observed by both volunteers and professionals. Sometimes the cause of homelessness for people 60 or older is the catastrophic illness of a loved one or oneself. Medical bills leave them destitute and lead to the loss of their homes. Chronic unemployment or a working life spent as a homemaker leaves women without Social Security or pension benefits. Elders are being asked to care for grandchildren, a responsibility that drains physical and financial resources. The County is working through the Department of Aging to provide services, including adequate, affordable housing for Seniors before they lose their savings and their homes and are reduced to homelessness.
One final story of despair transformed to hope. The Light House shares the story of Faith and Cody and their two children. Though the couple was holding down full-time jobs, they were facing eviction, unable to pay the rent on their apartment. They came to the Light House where they were housed in one of the family apartments. Cody and Faith worked with their Light House Case Manager to learn how to manage their meager resources. They applied for healthcare, public assistance, and debt repayment support. Both parents participated in the Nurturing Parenting Program as well. The family eventually was able to move into a home of their own again, this time with essential skills and a plan in place to help them remain independent and secure as a family.
Light House Safe Harbour Director Karen Williams shares this adage with us all, “The healing happens in relationships, and relationships take time.”
Contact List for Organizations Mentioned within this Article
Access Housing: Anne Arundel County:
Arundel Community Development Services: 410-222-7600
Arundel House of Hope: Winter Relief Program: (Winter only) 410-222-7600
Community Development Block Grant Program: Contact, Cindy Stone Director, Community Development Programs, Div. of Neighborhood Revitalization, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, 7800 Harkins Road Lanham, 301-429-7519 or 1-800-543-4505
Habitat For Humanity: HFH of the Chesapeake: 3741 Commerce Drive, Ste. 309, Baltimore, http://www.habitatchesapeake.org, 410- 366-1250
Haven Ministries: 608 Church Hill Road, Centreville, Sandi, Case Manager, 410-739-7859
Home Investment Partnership Program: Anne Arundel County Single Family Housing Programs: Contact: Community Development Administration, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, 7800 Harkins Road, Lanham, 301-429-7797
Homelessness Solutions Program: Contact
Steve Holt, Asst. Director, Homelessness
Solutions Program, Div. of Neighborhood Revitalization, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, 7800 Harkins Road, Lanham, 410-209-5847
Lighthouse’s Safe Harbour Resource Center: 10 Hudson Street, Annapolis, 410-263-1835
Sarah’s House: Anne Arundel County:
SCAR Foundation: www.facebook.com/SecondChancesAfterRehabilitationFoundation
Street Outreach & Youth Outreach: Annapolis
& Anne Arundel County, Delores
Talbot Interfaith Shelter: Easton, Fran at 410-253-5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org