Locals upset at lack of notification about shelter
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 12:06

Homeless shelter at Gov’t Center announced via Twitter message

by Ben Boehl

    A homeless shelter is being housed at the North Point Government Center. With the cold spell that hit the area, Baltimore County opened and called it a Code Blue Shelter.
    “We opened up on Jan. 5 and will remain open throughout the cold weather,” said Ellen Kobler, a spokesperson for the Baltimore County government.
    The private nonprofit Street of Hope is operating the shelter.
    Kobler said this is the second year that the shelter has been at the Government Center and that it replaces the rotating shelter system by which people were sent around to different churches.

Debbie Staigerwald, director of the Sky is the Limit theatre program at the Government Center, said she has nothing against the homeless or the program, but she would like to know if someone new is going to be hanging around the building.
    “We found out when we got there when men were hanging around with bags,” Staigerwald said.    
    Since the theatre program is made up mostly of women and children, Staigerwald would have liked to know about the change so they could prepare by locking doors and not keeping valuables out, which is commonly done when strangers -homeless or not  - come into a building.
    Baltimore County sent out a message on its Twitter account to notify the community about the shelter at the center.
    “The Baltimore County Code Blue Shelter at the North Point Government Center has been activated. Hours of operation are from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” said the tweet.
    Karen Cruz, president of the Eastfield Stanbrook Community Association, said her group is not against the homeless shelter but wants to know why the community was only notified via Twitter.
    “If there was a dire emergency, is that how we would be notified, by Twitter?” Cruz said.
    “Our community deserves better from Baltimore County,” she said. “To be clear, we are not against giving the homeless shelter. This issue is about not being told by Baltimore County. This is also about protecting our children. There are many children’s programs inside and outside of the North Point Government Center.”
    Sixth District Del. John Olszewski, Jr. agreed that a “tweet” should never be considered as notification to a community and that more should have been done to provide information.
    “It is entirely unacceptable that Baltimore County felt that issuing a ‘tweet’ constituted appropriate notice to the community about this decision. Residents are rightly angered that they were not given proper notification about this decision — in fact, considering the small number of people that use Twitter and follow Baltimore County on it, most were essentially given no notification at all,” Olszewski said in a written statement.
    “It was not, nor should ever be, asking too much for direct communication with impacted community groups before decisions are made.”
    Kobler did not respond directly to Olszewski’s comment, but did say that this is the second year that the program has been housed inside the center and there were no incidents reported last year, as the center is adjacent to the police station.
    Staigerwald said that just because a police station is in the same building doesn’t mean that police will be able to react within seconds of an incident.
    “The police station is on the other end of the building. The police can’t get to where we are (through their building),” Staigerwald  added.
    “It’s not that we don’t care. We really feel for people in need, but (the county) didn’t let any of us know.”
    John Ayers of the New Norwood Holabird Community Association said the Government Center is a perfect location for a temporary homeless lodging facility and with plenty of unutilized space, he believes under-utilized government buildings should be used in the winter months. Ayers said he is tired of hearing the “whining” from the community.
    “This is a temporary homeless shelter, with the key word being ‘temporary,’ during the cold months. It is not perma-nent,” Ayers said. “The county does not need approval or consent to do this.”