Homelessness Rises in Affluent Maryland: ‘Is It Acceptable?’
Maryland is among states experiencing a rise in people living without a home.
The number of people living on the streets, in their cars and in shelters has jumped nearly 27 percent in Maryland, a national group that studies homelessness trends reports.
Maryland is one of 31 states that saw an increase in its homeless population between 2008 and 2009, the latest years calculated, according to “State of Homelessness in America,” a recent report issued by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Nationwide, the homeless population increased by about 20,000 people, or 3 percent.
The report attributes most of the jump to the slow economy, which has led to higher unemployment, more homes in foreclosure and less funding for social services.
Despite the increase, local homeless advocates said they remain steadfast in their efforts to reduce or even eliminate the number of homeless in Maryland through support services and affordable housing initiatives.
“You really want to prevent people from becoming homeless,” said Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia. “Once they’re homeless, it tends to be a long, hard road to get stabilized again.”
Many of the state’s homeless residents seek support and temporary housing at county-funded emergency shelters. Others live “unsheltered,” without a roof over their heads.
Each year, counties like Baltimore, Carroll, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s hold Point-in-Time surveys, a sort of one-day snapshot to document the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals.
Overall numbers in these counties have fluctuated in recent years. In 2009, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties documented 1,194 and 853 people respectively. In 2010, the numbers dropped to 1,064 and 789.
Baltimore County estimated between 800 and 1,200 homeless people in 2009 and documented 890 in 2010. Carroll County documented 144 in 2009 and 129 in 2010, while Howard County documented 174 in 2009 versus 221 in 2010.
“In a county like ours that has so much, is it acceptable to have 221 people who are homeless?” asked Lois Mikkila, director of the Howard County Department of Citizen Services. “We need to highlight the fact that homelessness exists here.”
In Howard County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, homeless people tend to be “invisible,” Mikkila said. They live in tents in the woods or sleep in cars – not on the streets as many homeless in major cities do, she said.
But there are programs making a difference, advocates said.
In addition to the people it helps in its Columbia location, Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center opened the Day Resource Center more than two years ago in Jessup, with the goal to provide meals, clothing, showers and medical care to homeless people along Howard County’s Route 1 corridor.
The center helps about 200 people each month. In the past year, five have entered a year-long rehabilitation program, more than 20 have found steady employment and close to 40 are in housing, whether at Grassroots in Columbia, in an apartment or renting a room or living with families, Grassroots officials said.
A similar scenario exists in Montgomery County, another of the country’s most affluent counties, and both Howard and Montgomery counties have 10-year plans in place to end homelessness.
The Montgomery County plan began in 2002, with “Housing First” as one of its core initiatives. The program provides permanent housing and follow-up social support. The idea is to get a stable roof over people’s heads and then work on the issues that led to homelessness, said Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
While the program seems to be working, the county is still seeing an increase in its emergency services, including shelter housing and financial assistance to prevent eviction, Anderson said. Applications for food stamps and Medicaid are also up, as is the number of homeless families in Montgomery County with children.
“We’ve seen increases across the board,” Anderson said.
Baltimore County is also developing a plan to end homelessness in the next decade. The focus is reducing the number of homeless, said Sue Bull, the county’s homeless services coordinator.
Fair market price for a two-bedroom apartment in Baltimore County is $1,300, she said. By working with developers, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Bull said the county hopes to create more affordable housing for individuals and families. This spring, the county will also open the first single room occupancy facility for chronically homeless women.
Carroll County’s Continuum of Care annual plan is designed to reduce homelessness, with a significant part of the plan involving prevention. In fiscal year 2010, Human Services Programs – Carroll County’s community action agency – helped 11 households with rental assistance. The agency’s Emergency Shelter Grant aided 14 households between March and June at the Intact Family Shelter, which helps homeless families stay together and receive the support they need to find stable housing. The Carroll County Fuel and Energy Fund also provided financial assistance to 450 households so families could continue or restore their service.
In Prince George’s County, the Department of Social Services began a Homelessness Prevention Program about 25 years ago. The program, which is funded by federal, state, county and private money, provides counseling, landlord and tenant mediation and eviction or foreclosure assistance to those who qualify. The county also runs emergency shelters and a “homeless hotline” to help the homeless reach needed services 24 hours a day, said Lavette Sims, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services.
Sims and other local homeless advocates say progress has been made, but there is still much work to be done.
“A lot of times, people don’t become homeless immediately when they lose a job,” said Julie Maltzman, deputy director of programs at the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless.
Homelessness takes time, she said, and in those pockets of time, there are chances to prevent it. Emergency shelters, aid agencies and prevention programs just cannot do it alone, activists said.
“It’s a solvable problem,” Maltzman said. “If you can’t end it 100 percent, at least make it very, very rare and brief. But it takes an entire community to achieve that goal.”
For more information:
- Montgomery County Behavioral Health and Crisis Services
- Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless
Prince George’s County