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Report says shelters served 2,335 people in fiscal 2004

November 19, 2005|By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - One woman left her home to escape abuse.

A single mother with two children couldn't afford to pay the rent after her boyfriend quit his job.

Another woman and her daughter had no place else to turn after they no longer were able to stay with a friend.

Laura Barger, director of social services for The Salvation Army, said those were just some of the reasons the homeless turn to the organization's shelter for help.

In fiscal year 2004, 2,335 people stayed in shelters in Washington County, according to the Maryland Office of Transitional Service's Annual Report on Homelessness Services for fiscal year 2004.

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The county had 272 shelter beds that year.

Fiscal year 2004 is the latest year for which numbers are available.

The Salvation Army's 30 beds usually are filled year-round by single women and women with children. The shelter doesn't serve men, Barger said.

"Most of our ladies are working," Barger said. "They just don't have the jobs that can support their families."

Children and teens through age 17 make up the second-highest number of homeless people in Washington County, the report states.

"It's pretty much always been like that," Barger said of the high number of young homeless people.

The Washington County Commissioners named this week, Nov. 13-19, Homelessness Awareness Week, in an effort to raise awareness and educate the public about the problem.

In fiscal year 2004, 674 children through age 17 were reported to be homeless, according to the Maryland Office of Transitional Service's Annual Report on Homelessness Services.

That represents nearly 29 percent of the 2,335 number of people reported to be in the county. The report tracks the number of homeless people who stayed in shelters, not all of those who live outside and seek no assistance, said Greg Shupe, director of the Maryland Office of Transitional Services.

The highest number of homeless people in the county in fiscal year 2004 were those in the 31-to-60 age group, with 894 homeless people.

In the same year, there were more homeless families than individuals.

The report states the county had 1,332 families who stayed at shelters, compared to 1,003 individuals who were homeless.

"It's quite a problem," said John Kenney, project manager for adult services with the Washington County Department of Social Services. "Most people think of men (being homeless). They don't really think about women with children or ... families."

The Department of Social Services provides a number of services intended to prevent homelessness, such as financial assistance and helping them to find a place to stay.

Kenney and Washington County Community Action Council (CAC) officials said the rising cost of rent and home prices in the county was one of the reasons for homelessness.

"It's becoming more and more difficult in our area," said Kathy Saxman, CAC director of housing. "Prices seem to be on the rise."

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