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Homeless Shelter Opens at Dundalk Government Center

Recreation program leaders, residents are concerned and angry about the lack of notification to community.

A cold weather shelter for the homeless has opened at the North Point Government Center and nearby residents aren't happy they weren't informed of its creation.

The shelter, a Streets of Hope program run by a church collaborative, will be open roughly through the end of March, according to Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County.

Kobler said Tuesday the shelter is replacing a roving, week-to-week cold weather shelter formerly operated by a group of Dundalk churches.

Asked why the change was made, Kobler said, "This just seemed to be more convenient—it made more sense."

Community members are upset that the shelter is operating in the center, parts of which serve as community and recreation center for local residents.

Eastfield-Stanbrook resident Patricia Paul said she figured out what was going on by observing groups of homeless people gathering behind the school around dusk each evening.

"It wasn't hard to figure out the rest," Paul said in an email to Dundalk Patch. "The community was not given any notice. Recreation program leaders were not informed."

Eastfield-Stanbrook Civic Association President Karen Cruz said she "got wind" of the shelter's existence through a community resident.

"No, no one contacted our association," Cruz said in an email.

Debbie Staigerwald, the director of The Sky is the Limit community theater in residence at the center, also said she was not notified of the shelter opening in the buidling.

She said she figured it out after going to the theater one evening to do some work and seeing "a bunch of men with bags, hanging out behind the building, smoking."

While Staigerwald said she "feels for the homeless," she still believes county leaders had a responsibility to include the community in the decision to place the shelter where children play.

"Once again, we knew nothing about this," she said Wednesday. "We're not being told anything, and the message that comes across from that is 'you're not important, you don't count.'"

When told community residents are upset at yet another major decision affecting their quality of life being made without notice to or input from them, Kobler said notice of the shelter opening was made via the social network Twitter.

Baltimore County public safety officials "issued a Tweet about the shelter opening on Jan. 5," Kobler said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"Baltimore County DSS has activated a cold weather homeless shelter at the North Point Govt. Center," the county announced on its public safety Twitter account. "Hours are 7 p.m. to 7 a.m."

Cruz said a two-sentence online notice is not an appropriate way to let a community know of something as important as the creation of a homeless shelter.

"It appears this was deliberate to give the information about the county shelter to the least amount of residents possible," Cruz said. "No, it is not appropriate. If we had an actual dire emergency situation, is that how we would be notified? They could have put something in a newspaper."

Noting that Eastfield-Stanbrook residents are "more than upset" with the county's actions, Paul also said Twitter is not the way to communicate with residents.

"If you really don't want the information to be known by this community, then sending a Tweet was the right way to go," she said. "Most residents are not using social media for news. Many do not even have access to a cell phone or computer."

Kobler said giving the homeless residents a place to sleep during the winter is a win-win situation for everyone.

The homeless people are safer and healthier, and local communities don't have people sleeping in alleyways, local parks and behind businesses, Kobler said.

The government center shelter can accommodate 40 to 50 people and is open to men, women and children, according to Kobler.

How to handle Baltimore County's homeless population has been an emotional and logistical issue for years.

Dundalk residents believe their community bears too much of the county's responsibility when it comes to placing social services like clinics, shelters, domestic violence programs and subsidized housing.

A proposal by the Dundalk United Methodist Church to put a Streets of Hope homeless shelter at its vacant parsonage in Old Dundalk met with considerable opposition in 2011.

Streets of Hope is a collaboration of local churches that has in the past hosted a roving cold weather shelter that moved from church to church throughout the winter season.

Dundalk UMC eventually backed down and decided not to open the shelter.

The community is also in the process of fighting a proposal by Catholic Charities of Baltimore to place a permanent housing program for men ages 60 and older at the former St. Luke's Catholic Church convent in Edgemere.

Catholic Charities officials recently announced that they would change the target population of the program to "vulnerable adult women."

A zoning variance hearing regarding that proposal is set for next week.

The community also finds itself in the middle of two other important issues that residents think they have been left out of the conversation on — the proposed sale of the North Point Government Center land and the closure of Eastwood Elementary Magnet School.

A group of about 125 largely angry community resident met at the North Point Library on Jan. 12 to express their frustration with county leaders who have moved forward without input from the community; to share what information is known; and to formulate an action plan to fight the decisions being made by those county leaders.

Cruz said the county does not inform the community of major decisions and residents have to find out the information on their own.

"Baltimore County thinks so highly of its citizens?" she said in an email. "Again, there is something wrong with this picture. We expect more from our government."

Staigerwald agrees. She believes some of the moves being made, particularly with the proposed sale of the government center, amount to little more than a land grab by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

"This land belongs to us, and these people in office are the stewards of our public land," she said. "They shouldn't be selling our land just for the money.

"It's time for a change."

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Buzz Beeler January 24, 2013 at 08:02 PM
cary, nice comment. Well written. The only issue I would have is that the councilman should have notified the community of the plans, after all, that is his job.
STEVE January 24, 2013 at 08:03 PM
Baltimore County government has a responsibility to inform the community. So far, they haven't offered any information other than the tweet on 1/5. The Government Center belongs to the people, and how it's used is our business. The problem isn't about providing a warm place for the homeless, it's about hiding the truth from the community. Parents and rec leaders can't protect kids from possible danger when they don't know it exists. The shelter will be open for several months, if not longer. It's not just for code blue nights.
cary quintana January 24, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Better answer? How about using building neighboring a medical clinic or hospital? Bayview and or John's Hopkins? Here are a group of people that require shelter, as well as possible medical attention and mental health help. Does it make more sense to direct them into a residential area with little to no staff to support them or to a campus with trained professionals in the field that may be needed? There is also direct access to emergency supplies should it be required, the campus of both is outside of residential zoning, and they even have what is needed for drug addiction. For those who require mental health professionals, they can benefit from the Bayview psychological staff, the staff can benefit by studying cause and effect of homelessness. Granted, you get into a slippery slope when people are studied so regulation of these homeless medical centers should be tight.. but what better location? Thoughts? Edited for typo...
Derek Sillpoy January 24, 2013 at 08:11 PM
If you are talking about Diamond Point, the county doesn't own that building. Aside from that, Al Day 's argument doesn't hold up. This isn't the first winter where we have homeless people out in the cold yet it is the first one where the best plan our leaders come up with is putting homeless in a rec center in an area we should be targeting for economic development. I'm not against helping people. I'm against corrupt and lazy elected officials that do these things because they don't have the brains or will to do anything right.
Steve January 24, 2013 at 08:29 PM
"Using this location for a shelter should be debated, but it can only be debated if we, the residents of Dundalk, know it is planned." That's ridiculous. There's no time to debate when peoples lives are potentially on the line.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Agreed. I'm still waiting for Johnny O to save his buddy Vontran from the Seagrams mess they got him into.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 08:47 PM
You can't say for sure none of them are pedophiles, felons or something else that puts citizens at risk. Since the Government Center is home to childrens sports - rec. soccer and a program for the handicapped, it is not a goodplace for it.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 08:48 PM
Exactly.
cary quintana January 24, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Oh, well in that case. I guess we should... what? Forgo any sense of order and law at the whim of someones stated needs? Tell ya what, these people need better shelter than just the community center. I'm going to dictate that all homes in the Stansbury Park will house 1 to 2 homeless for the next 3 months. After all, there is plenty of room in those homes for 1 or 2 more people and lives are potentially on the line right? No time to plan? I think we were all very well aware that Winter was coming, it tends to happen every year about the same time. It's not like it sneaks up on you.
Laura Quintana January 24, 2013 at 08:54 PM
I think it's fairly safe to assume that no one with an ounce of compassion wants another to freeze for want of shelter. That said, there are several reasons that homeless shelters are typically not located in the middle of a residential community, ranging from not wanting a residential area to become a landing ground for the homeless to the myriad of issues (severe mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and the accompanying unpredictable behavior) that are statistically associated with most of those who are transient. Absolutely, there should be adequate treatment for those who are afflicted with mental illness, but with no guidance, how can one convince another with abnormal and/or bizarre thinking to seek psychiatric care. This brings about the huge issue of civil commitments, the psychiatric patients' rights, etc.,which is too large a topic for this forum. Bottom line, I'd love to know what those in charge were thinking. City centers in the vicinity of county hospitals are typical locations for homeless shelters, not suburban neighborhoods, and certainly not in a community center.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Stephanie Barron. Do you have small children that play sports at the Government Center? If so, I guess you are OK with putting them at additional risk without any notice. If not, then I understand where you are coming from, and simply do not understand the concerns of parents that have children playing at the Government Center. Certainly, some of the homeless have landed there tragically, but not all. And some within this homeless community are dangers to society. I am for helping others in need , but to place children or the mentall and physically challanged at risk - those that cannot protect themselves - is unnacceptable.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Good question.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:04 PM
I agree. You also have the freedom to open your home to a couple homeless that you care so much for. The children at the Center play in an organized recreation program - namely indoor soccer. How is letting your child play in a sports program considered neglectful parenting?
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:08 PM
You're making the case for why they should not be located around children at a rec center. Mostly drug addicts, people who shank people. Not the environment we want our children around.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Your house!
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:15 PM
The community theater is made up of mentally and physically challenged people that, for the most part, require assistance in everyday activities. They are vulnorable, as is the children playing sports.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:16 PM
Agreed.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Then you house them! Give me your address and I'll distribute it in front of the Government Center tonight! I'll even give them printed directions so they do not get lost. It will only be temporary until your elected leaders find an alternative solution that does not put children in harms way.
John T. January 24, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Good point Cary
Steve January 24, 2013 at 09:34 PM
It's Dundalk's homeless. It's Dundalk's problem. I don't hear any other community whining so much.
Steve January 24, 2013 at 11:06 PM
I read this Homeless guys blog. It gives a different perspective of the problems homeless people face. http://citypaper.com/news/columns/good-cop-bad-cop-1.1433186#.UP9cvTTZhOw.blogger
Rob January 24, 2013 at 11:45 PM
Why are people surprised? This is what you get when you vote for democrats. What has gotten better in Dundalk in the last 20 years? What will get better in Dundalk in the next 20 years? Nothing if you keep voting for democrats. Ruppersberger doesn't even campaign yet he wins every election. People only vote for the D and not the results that have come because of the people they vote for. It will never change because democrats are the dumbest life form we have on earth.
Rob January 24, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Who gives a crap? Most of them are homeless because of their own doing. We all know that drugs are bad and you can become addicted but these clowns still did it. The drop out of school and become unproductive drags on society and we are supposed give a rat about what they go through? I don't I care about the kids that these people don't even care enough to not bring in the world but the scum bags that put themselves in this position did it on their own.
Liz Mercy January 25, 2013 at 01:48 AM
Agree with using ALL of the empty places just sitting around decaying vs tearing up land to try to keep our environment safe doe our kids future. There are way too many empty unused spaces. Hmm, perhaps some decent affordable apartments. Clean and safe for rental. Rental does not have to equate to slums.
Liz Mercy January 25, 2013 at 01:56 AM
This is all quite interesting.
Robin C. January 25, 2013 at 02:05 AM
"A proposal by the Dundalk United Methodist Church to put a Streets of Hope homeless shelter at its vacant parsonage in Old Dundalk met with considerable opposition in 2011." If this program did not fit well in Old Dundalk, then why would anyone think Eastfield, next to an elementary school, would be a better location. It sounds like the homeless are being "helped" out of Old Dundalk and St. Helena.
Robyne V. January 25, 2013 at 02:06 AM
"A proposal by the Dundalk United Methodist Church to put a Streets of Hope homeless shelter at its vacant parsonage in Old Dundalk met with considerable opposition in 2011." If this program did not fit well in Old Dundalk, then why would anyone think Eastfield, next to an elementary school, would be a better location. It sounds like the homeless are being "helped" out of Old Dundalk and St. Helena.
kevin January 25, 2013 at 04:51 AM
Look KK has a deal in place he is going to make that place as bad as he can then he'll come to rescue. It's dundalk who cares. They kicked out Lou Depazzo because he told the truth which began the O dynasty.O Screwed over Bartenfelder to get KK elected. Air conditioned schools. You fell for it now either change it in 2014 anybody but O all of the O clan and Don't accept anyone from that Demo Club that destroyed Depazzo.If you don't learn from history shut up and take KK shopping/condo.
JOE January 25, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Dundalk residents need to speak up now, and in 2014! Let your voice be heard.
Buzz Beeler January 25, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Joe, there are a lot of people listening right now.

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