Housing plan changed from homeless men to women
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 13:44

New Hosannah House plan still meets resistance

by John G. Bailey

    In response to heavy opposition to the proposed Hosannah House project, Catholic Charities  amended its original plans for a transitional housing facility serving men 60 years and older at the former convent house located between St. Luke Roman Catholic Church and St. Luke’s Place in Edgemere. alt
    The primary changes under the new plan deal with gender and age cohort: the proposal now calls for a facility to serve homeless women, ages 50 and over. The function of Hossanah House would remain the same and the facility would still serve 14 residents. 
    The updated details were introduced to parents of St. Luke School students at a meeting at the church on Jan. 15. Rob Zacherl, president of the parish council, presided over the meeting and outlined the changes for the group.
    The Catholic Charities representative who was scheduled to appear could not make it due to a family emergency. The Rev. Austin Murphy, pastor of the Our Lady of Hope and St. Luke parishes, fielded questions from the parents.

Other changes specifically addressed security concerns expressed repeatedly by parents and area residents during previous meetings. The outside door in the Hosannah House facility that faces the church will be permanently closed; women residing at Hosannah House will carry a key fob that will enable staff at the facility to track them;  outside video cameras at the residence will be installed. St. Luke’s Place staff will monitor the cameras when Hosanah House staff are out.
    Murphy, as a representative of the church and school in discussions with Catholic Charities, was able to shed light on the origins of Hosannah House and the process though which the organization develops plans.   
    Since the assisted living program at the former convent ended, Catholic Charities has owned a vacant building. They went to the Baltimore County Department of Community Planning to find a need in the Edgemere-Sparrows Point area that could be served by the property.         The county, through its continuum of care assessment, originally determined the need for a transitional facility for homeless men ages 60 and older.
    In the face of opposition to plans for this group, Catholic Charities returned to the county for help in finding another population to serve, and developed the revised plan for older homeless women. The organization lowered the minimum age for residents to 50 when the county found that there were not enough women in the original age cohort for the facility.
    In responding to questions from worried parents about the safety of their children, Murphy revealed a sympathy for the Hosannah House concept, if not for it’s specific plans.
    He explained the dilemna Hosannah House posed for him as a Catholic priest. “How do we balance service for the poor with care for the young?” he queried the parents.
    Murphy reiterated the two-step process, explained in  earlier public meetings, through which prospective residents would be chosen: the county would propose a list of candidates from which Catholic Charities would choose prospective residents for the facility.    
    Catholic Charities is not legally obliged to accept any of the candidates. Further, as Murphy explained, the organization had a vested interest in choosing only those prospective residents who were likely to transition out of Hosannah House — the main goal of the project. The program is not designed for sexual predators or other chronic criminals.
    Parents at the meeting were not mollified by Catholic Charities’ concession. A mother was concerned about visitors to Hosannah residents and wondered who would superivise them. Another parent asked if a member of the school board could sit on the committee that vetted prospective residents. A father wanted to know the success rate of a similar program in West Baltimore, a subject that was raised in earlier meetings on the matter.
    The amended plan itself raised a new concern: If and when the plan is approved, what would prevent the minimum age from being lowered again? 
    Murphy could not answer many of these question, and not being a Catholic Charities representative, no one expected him to. Zacherl assured parents that their questions would be forwarded to Catholic Charities for responses.
    The hearing on zoning variance requested by Catholic Charites for the property is still taking place as scheduled, despite the amended plans, on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. in room 205 of the Jefferson Building, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson. The organization is asking that the facility’s designated function be changed from assisted living to residential living. It is also seeking the use of six parking spaces in the St. Luke’s Place parking lot. The public is invited to attend and can fax comments prior to the meeting to 410-887-5708.
    Desire for one more public meeting with Catholic Charities on the matter before the hearing was expressed. Plans are pending.