Recent discussion about the Catholic Charities of Baltimore’s proposal to co-locate housing for the homeless alongside the preschool and senior housing complex near St. Luke’s Church in Edgemere has again brought the issue of homelessness in Eastern Baltimore County into focus.
While we should be able to agree that the issue merits our attention, we should also agree to approach the challenge in a thoughtful and comprehensive way. I do not support what has become an ad hoc way of placing social services. That is why I formally developed and submitted a plan to the Baltimore County administration urging the creation of a comprehensive service site away from major commercial and residential corridors.
We have an obligation to identify solutions to the pressing challenges we face as a community. Indeed, finding the right housing and rehabilitation options are critical if we ever hope not only to meet the needs of the homeless, but also to end their dependency on government services and return them to being productive citizens.
Aiding the less fortunate members of our community must be done thoughtfully. Haphazardly placing resources for people in need throughout a community, near residential housing, near daycares, and in our commercial districts, for example, is neither thoughtful nor productive.
For example, diverting social services, including those for the homeless, away from places like our shopping centers and places of commerce makes sense and can add vibrancy to a commercial district. It can also help us avoid the placement of services near vulnerable populations such as young children.
The good news is that there are ways that we can remove these sporadic social services from key residential and commercial areas while still helping those in need.
My proposal would leverage the essentially vacant Diamond Point Shopping Center, relatively far removed from other commerce and residential housing, as an effective location to provide services for both Dundalk and Essex residents in need. The property is slated for auction in early November.
Diamond Point’s substantial space could allow for multiple services to be provided there, including the type of services envisioned by Hosanna House. Under this scenario, rather than simply providing shelter from homelessness, individuals receiving shelter would have access to effective job training and counseling services all in one location.
Rather than have a patchwork of services in commercial districts and among residential communities, we should create a comprehensive location that would best serve those in need—something research has confirmed has the most positive benefits for the disadvantaged.
The need to provide services should not condone placing those services anywhere; likewise, the rational desire to keep services out of certain locations should not keep services from being provided altogether. Using Diamond Point or another suitable location, to create opportunities to remove services from our business and residential corridors and place them into a comprehensive center, reflects this reality.
Creating a location with comprehensive services is best for people in need, as well as for our communities. While it may not be easily accomplished, we can meet the needs of our neighbors while growing robust commercial and residential areas with the coordinated efforts of our government, church, and community leaders.