Szeliga hears of rural homelessness challenges
STEVENSVILLE — Royce Ball with the Mid-Shore Recovering Veterans Group started the roundtable exercise at the Kent Island American Legion regarding homelessness on Monday, Oct. 24, asking the group to look at four pictures of individuals and asked which one looks out of place. The point of the exercise was to show that homelessness has no face, no age, gender or defining physical characteristics – it could be anyone.
The group, made up of MidShore organization leaders dealing with homelessness and low-income families, discussed the challenges of getting people off the streets into safe, affordable housing for sustained success.
Kathy Szeliga, the Republican Minority Whip in the House of Delegates and current candidate for Maryland U.S. Senator, took notes and listened to the challenges of rural homelessness.
“Rural homelessness looks very different than urban homelessness and because of that I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it and I think a lot of people think it doesn’t exist in rural areas because it can be hard to see,” said Krista Pettit, executive director of Haven Ministries Inc., a Queen Anne’s County nonprofit that works with homelessness.
Pettit said people will often couch surf and through Haven Ministries’ connection of churches throughout the county, it tries and piece it all together. Pettit said the nonprofit hopes to open a program dealing with unaccompanied high school youth, which she said is a growing population in Queen Anne’s County.
“What people can make or what they can get from programs and the cost of housing in our communities is such a discrepancy people just can’t make it,” Pettit said.
Marilyn Neal, executive director of Neighborhood Service Center Inc., in Talbot County, said keeping families “stabilized” is a big deal. “As important as it is for us to house the homeless, it’s equally important to keep families from becoming displaced and separated,” she said.
Neal said last year the organization worked with hotels to house individuals when nothing was locally available. She said one family stayed at a hotel for two months because they didn’t want to displace the kids from school and from their families. “It’s so many challenges that come with homelessness that I think some of our community just isn’t aware of,” Neal said. “It’s a hardship on the children.”
Neal said as of last Thursday, there were 165 homeless youth in Talbot County.
“You look at Talbot County as being this rich little area, but then you have that 10 percent that is not living in the same component and struggling,” Neal said.
Neal and other representatives at the discussion spoke about the lack of affordable housing in the region and the lack of transportation, two major components in helping homeless individuals. Without existing transportation or even reliable transportation, homeless individuals can find hardship in getting to and from work. Neal said a woman she is working with got a job in Hurlock, about 20 minutes from the shelter in Talbot County, but no transportation is available to get her there. Currently, a retired couple, Neal said, is taking her to work.
“We do have good volunteers, but volunteers can’t do it all,” she said.
Bill Satterfield with the Mid-Shore Recovering Veterans Group said another homelessness facet is getting services for displaced veterans. Multiple nights a week Satterfield said he goes out to interact with the homeless veterans to try and gain their trust in hopes he can eventually lead them to services.
Theo Williams, Salisbury housing and homeless manager, mentioned the lack of sex offender housing in the Mid-Shore region. Williams said many homeless shelters do not accept clients with sex offense records, and he believes people with such a record are more dangerous “on the street than in a structured environment.”
Such facilities can be found in Baltimore City, he said.
The 2015 Maryland Pointin-Time results gathered by the 16 Continuum of Cares throughout the state counted 158 homeless individuals in the Mid-Shore CoC. The total homeless population from the Point-in-Time study showed 8,392 homeless clients in the state, an increase from the previous year.
Point-in-Time calculations are gathered during one night in January annually.
The 2015 annual report, put together by the Interagency Council on Homelessness in November 2015 created for the Maryland General Assembly, also showed that homelessness among veterans has increased from 673 to 990 from 2013 to 2015. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said 428,861 total veterans are in Maryland, 12 percent of whom are homeless.
“The very unexpected joy of running statewide for senate is doing things like this that are so instructive, and then I’m able to make changes and talk about them,” Szeliga said. “Whether I win or I don’t win, I know we’re making an impact.”
Kathy Szeliga, candidate for the Maryland U.S. Senate seat, listens as representatives of MidShore organizations talk about rural homelessness in a roundtable discussion at the Kent Island American Legion on Monday, Oct. 24.