Howard County’s Latest Effort to End Homelessness

Howard County, Md. recently broke ground on a new facility for homeless persons, the Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center.  It will house the existing Day Resource Center, include 35 apartments, and is based on an increasingly popular model for addressing homelessness called “Housing First.” Here is a primer on the new center and the challenge of homelessness in Howard County, Md.

[This information has been updated with a new HoCoMDcc post, “Assistance to homeless persons enhanced by opening of community resource center“, October 6, 2017]

by Fatimah Waseem (Howard County Times) – June 8, 2016

Intended to tackle homelessness in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, the three-story building will include 35 high-efficiency apartments for the homeless. The center, called the Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center, is expected to be completed by summer 2017 and will replace the Day Resource Center near the Jessup-Laurel border, which provides warm meals, counseling and medical exams to homeless people.

The center is named after Leola Dorsey, an iconic civil rights activist and leader in Howard County, who grew up down the road from the site and fought for the rights of the county’s African American residents. In 1947, Dorsey was president of the newly formed chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other community organizations.

The idea for the new center grows out of a recommendation from the county’s Plan to End Homelessness in 2010, which outlines goals for the county in tackling situational homeless — which occurs when stable individuals and families cannot afford housing due to job loss, injury or another disaster — and chronic homelessness, which often involves individuals with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

by Howard County Dept of Citizen Services – November 2010

Despite Howard County’s affluence, and despite an extensive system of shelters and other services, homelessness persists here. More than 200 people each day are living in shelters – or in the woods or in cars. Hundreds more are at risk of homelessness, doubled up, moving from couch to couch, or threatened with eviction.

Shelter beds are nearly always full, and about a dozen people are turned away in an average day. Emergency funds run out before the emergencies do. Families that are precariously housed often don’t get help until they’re actually on the street. The county lacks the type of supportive housing needed to get the chronically homeless out of the woods.

Homelessness is costly. Numerous studies from across the country show that the chronically homeless consume disproportionate shares of hospital and police costs. And it isn’t just the taxpayers who are bearing the cost. Homeless children are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school and twice as likely to go hungry. The Howard County Public School System last year identified 462 children who were homeless or at risk of homelessness – up 27 percent from the year before.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Homelessness is not inevitable. We don’t have to learn to live with it. It can be prevented. And other communities are showing that it can be done. Here are the keys:

  • Prevention efforts to provide stabilization services to persons that might otherwise become homeless; and a
  • Housing First approach to move homeless persons as rapidly as possible to permanent housing.

This Plan shows us the way. It was drafted by the Committee to End Homelessness, at the request of the Board to Promote Self-Sufficiency. The Board was created by the county executive and county council to promote the economic stability of individuals and families and reduce the incidence of poverty in Howard County.

The Plan reviews what’s known about homelessness in Howard County, enumerates current efforts to deal with the problem, and points to a new paradigm of Prevention and Housing First adapted to the local situation.

by Howard County Dept of Citizen Services – May 1, 2015

The Howard County Department of Citizen Services has announced the number of individuals and households counted as homeless in Howard County, identified through the national Point-in-Time count, has declined for the third year in a row. In 2012, 150 households comprised of 230 individuals were homeless. The Department’s most recent count, which it conducts annually at the end of each January, found 104 households with a total of 166 individuals to be homeless in Howard County.

The decline in the number of homeless individuals in Howard County coincides with the launch of the County’s Coordinated System of Homeless Services (CSHS) in September 2012. CSHS came as a recommendation of the County’s “Plan to End Homelessness” initiative and now integrates the services of 13 non-profit and government agencies.

“Thanks to the overwhelming commitment of key non-profit agencies and county departments, we are on track to make homelessness a brief and rare occurrence most of the time,” said Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman. “I am pleased that we are able to continue funding this important initiative even in difficult budget times.”

Howard County adopted its Plan to End Homelessness in 2010. Since then, under the leadership of the Department of Citizen Services, Howard County has moved to the forefront of creating a system of services for those in a housing crisis. “We still have work to do,” said Lois Mikkila, Director of the Department of Citizen Services. “But our collective approach is an effective framework to address this complex social issue.”


Route 1 Day Resource Center
Route 1 Day Resource Center

With enthusiastic support from the churches, local government and foundations, the Grassroots Day Resource Center was opened in July 2008 to better serve this population (the homeless).  The Center provides showers, laundry, clothing, internet access, phone, mailing address, basic living supplies, conversation and referrals to social services. The homeless consumers were involved in determining the services, hours of operation and policies. The Center is operated under the auspices of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, staffed by volunteers and guided by a project coordinator. In the first 3 months over 140 individuals were served.

By January of 2009, the Center had served over 250 individuals with numbers fluctuating between 35 and 70 a day. Over 40 different congregations are involved in supplying volunteers, food, supplies, funding and other resources. Our services have grown to include a doctor and a nurse who are helping us to address the myriad of health issues and a lawyer who is available once a week for consultation with clients.

National Alliance to End Homelessness

Housing First is a homeless assistance approach  that prioritizes providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible – and then providing voluntary supportive services as needed. This approach prioritizes client choice in both housing selection and in service participation.

Housing First programs share critical elements:

  • A focus on helping individuals and families access and sustain permanent rental housing as quickly as possible;
  • A variety of services delivered to promote housing stability and individual well-being on an as-needed and entirely voluntary basis; and
  • A standard lease agreement to housing – as opposed to mandated therapy or services compliance.

While all Housing First programs share these elements, program models vary significantly depending upon the population served. For people who have experienced chronic homelessness, long-term services and support may be needed.



Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Inc. is a faith-based, non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire self-reliance, dignity and hope through health and human services.

Founded in 1896 in Baltimore, MD Volunteers of America Chesapeake was one of the first branches of Volunteers of America – one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive human services organizations.

Through a dedicated and committed team of management, staff and volunteers and guided by our Core Values: Caring, Respect, Faith, Quality and Trust – Volunteers of America Chesapeake helps thousands of people each year throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia at our more than 30 programs serving:

  • Those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless
  • Individuals with mental illness
  • Individuals and families of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities
  • Those in need of affordable housing
  • Those in need of supportive services
  • Those recovering from substance abuse addictions
  • Those involved in community corrections


Published by

Harry Schwarz

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with BearsolutionsLLC, assisting charter school authorizers to provide effective financial oversight. He is underemployed at this time and welcomes conversation about how he might help you.

One thought on “Howard County’s Latest Effort to End Homelessness”

  1. While the Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center is an important step forward for the County, we’ve got to question whether one of the richest counties in the country is doing enough. There were 166 homeless persons in January 2015. The County Executive declares “we are on track to make homelessness a brief and rare occurrence most of the time.” What do we need to do to get this done now?


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