Clients receive help applying for housing vouchers and health insurance, finding jobs, screening for substance use, replacing identification
The Howard County Government, partnering with Grassroots and local faith communities, provided an expanded Cold Weather Shelter Program for 37 struggling individuals from the end of November until the end of March. People are referred to the program when Grassroots’ shelter for the homeless on Freetown Road in Columbia is full. The Cold Weather Shelter Program has been operating for 18 years.
This year’s guests were homeless due to eviction, job loss, domestic violence, addiction, health issues and release from an institution. By the end of the winter program, two of the guests found permanent housing and seven moved into the Grassroots shelter and one to another shelter, where they will be helped to find a better housing situation. Five were awarded vouchers for subsidized housing. Two people moved in with family or friends, five stayed in the motel program pending other options, and another five paid their own way to continue at the motel.
“Because of the pandemic and the generosity of our partners, Cold Weather Shelter was able to offer its guests a Grassroots-staffed place to stay 24-7 for the winter,” said Cold Weather Shelter Manager Kathy Piet. “The daytime staffing allowed us to provide significant assistance to moving our guests out of homelessness,” she added.
The shelter guests all had a history of homelessness, with 16 having been homeless for a year or more, and 14 having been homeless for 1-6 months. Two had been guests at the Cold Weather Shelter in prior years. They spent a total of 2,540 “bed nights” in the Cold Weather Shelter and ate almost 9,000 meals.
During the guests’ time in the shelter, Grassroots staff helped them replace or renew their identification, obtain birth certificates, find employment, apply for housing and health insurance and get phones, as well as screening for substance use.
Among the success stories of this year’s program was a 91-year-old who found permanent housing after being evicted from her home of many years, a chronically homeless man who had been living in the woods for a year and was approved for a housing voucher, and a woman who successfully lobbied her employer to increase her hours and pay and is now earning enough to rent a place to live.
Howard County Government funded shelter at a local motel for the 17-week program, and Grassroots secured funding for 24-7 staffing and other expenses.
“These were unique circumstances, and County Executive Calvin Ball and his administration led the way in supporting the ‘best practices approach’ to assist individuals facing homelessness during a pandemic,” said Grassroots Executive Director Dr. Mariana Izraelson. “On behalf of our most vulnerable neighbors, we are grateful for this leadership and support,” she added.
Faith communities provided three meals a day for guests of the Cold Weather Shelter, as well as financial support for staffing, laundry, transportation, and other assistance for clients.
Participating faith communities included Atholton Seventh Day Adventist, Bethany United Methodist Church, Bridgeway Community Church, Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church,The Church at Covenant Park, Columbia Community Church. First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, Glen Mar United Methodist Church, Grace Community Church, Kittamaqundi Community Church, Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church, Locust United Methodist Church, New Hope Lutheran Church, Owen Brown Interfaith Center, St. John Baptist Church, St. John Evangelical Lutheran, St. Paul Catholic Church, and Temple Isaiah.