Community opposition to the proposed Hosanna House in Edgemere is picking up steam, if Thursday night's North Point Community Council meeting is any indication.
About 45 residents attended to hear additional information and ask questions of Catholic Charities of Baltimore officials.
The Catholic organization is proposing the permanent housing program for as many as 14 homeless men, ages 60 and up. They plan to use the vacant St. Luke's Catholic Church convent on Lodge Farm Road, which is now owned by Catholic Charities.
Mary Ann O'Donnell, director of community services for Catholic Charities, started her presentation by saying that published descriptions of the program as a homeless shelter are inaccurate and she wanted to set the record straight.
Hosanna House will be a permanent housing program for people who are down on their luck for a variety of reasons, she said.
"This is not a shelter where people can walk in off the street and we have to take them in," O'Donnell said. "There is an application process, people need to be accepted and we have the opportunity to interview people."
Community residents had many questions, and voiced opinions about what they believe is the inappropriate placement of such a social services program.
They expressed concern about the program being in such close proximity to St. Luke's Pre-School, St. Luke's Place—a senior citizen housing complex—and other residential areas.
Benton Berman, who directs Holden Hall, a similar program in Baltimore City, said his program is close to a Head Start program, and there has never been a problem—in 20 years—of the men interacting with those children.
The Head Start director, who attended the meeting, said Holden Hall had been "nothing but good neighbors" in her experience.
She said the residents volunteer at the program, keep an eye on its building and help clear debris when neighbors dump things at the center's outdoor trash bin.
Catholic Charities has already been awarded federal funding for the program, and has applied for a special exception through Baltimore County to be allowed to start it in the convent building.
O'Donnell told the crowd that she called Baltimore County Thursday, and a hearing date had not yet been set.
Edgemere residents said there are no employment opportunities in Edgemere, nor is there public transportation.
O'Donnell said she and her colleagues acknowledged those problems that the Edgemere location would present.
Berman said money has been allocated in the budget to provide van service and drivers to get men from the house to bus lines.
The program aims to provide employment services, with the hope of getting the men jobs so they can eventually provide their own income and secure private housing.
With a senior citizen population, that might not be possible with all the men, and some could live the rest of their lives at Hosanna House, the Catholic Charities officials said.
North Point Council President Harry Wujek asked how many people in the audience have children in the pre-school program, and about eight residents raised their hands.
Many spoke of their intention to pull their children from the pre-school if Hosanna House opens.
With a student population of 53, it wouldn't take many resignations to cripple the program, Wujek said.
Berman said every effort would be made to draw from local ZIP Codes first when filling the proposed house. The area from which to draw applicants would grow as needed to fill the house.
"We would have no problem coming up with 30 or 40 men to fill a 14-men house," he said.
Berman said he would invite local residents to sit on the interview board when interviewing prospective candidates for the program.
In response to a question about what kind of guest visitation would be allowed at the house, Berman said those kinds of rules have not yet been written. He also said he would be willing to consider community suggestions in that process.
He said, in response to another question, that there would be no curfews imposed upon residents; that they would be free to come and go as they please.
Men will have electronic swipe cards to enter and leave the building, so residents coming and going at odd hours would be noticed, officials said.
"By the way, this is America," Berman said. "Hosanna House will not be a jail or a prison—this will be their home."
One woman asked how many other programs were being considered for the site, or if this program would happen, "no matter what."
"At this point, none," O'Donnell said of other possible programs. "But it's not going to happen, no matter what."
O'Donnell said she and her colleagues would take this community input into consideration as they continue their talks about the project.