Homeless in Cecil County Estimated at 300; Schools See Rise in Homeless Kids
Non-profit groups that aid the homeless estimate there are about 300 homeless adults in Cecil County while the countyâ€™s public schools have seen a recent sharp rise in the number of homeless students, County Commissioners were told Tuesday.
The commissioners held a worksession Tuesday afternoon on budget requests from the county school system and representatives of several non-profit organizations as part of deliberations on the Fiscal 2013 budget.
Several groups that serve the homeless population, including veterans, in the county are requesting modest amounts to supplement their own fundraising efforts and pointed out their programs save the county money in the long run by seeking to return homeless people to productive lives in society.
The Cecil County Menâ€™s Shelter, which operates a home for 15 men including 10 veterans, received $7,750 from the county in the current budget year and is requesting $25,000 in the upcoming budget. Meeting Ground, which operates several programs aiding the homeless, including a â€śdayâ€ť shelter in Elkton and an Earleville farm serving families with children, currently receives $11,750 and is requesting $25,000.
Meeting Ground also co-ordinates a winter shelter program that rotates among various churches throughout the county, providing overnight beds and meals to the homeless during cold winter weather. This winter, the churches served 106 individuals and offered overnight shelter for 126 nights, averaging 26 people per night.
However, both groups are expected to be lucky if they get the same amount of county aid next year as they do now, in light of the County Commissionersâ€™ avowed wish to avoid property tax increases.
The problem of homelessness in Cecil County is a complicated mixture of mental illness, poverty and substance abuse problems, the experts said.
Daniel Martin, director of the menâ€™s shelter, said his program does random drug and alcohol testing and requires sobriety, or else men are removed from the program, which aims to help them find jobs, treatment if needed, and develop life skills so as to be able to live independently.
Others estimated that about a quarter of the overall homeless population in the county has a drug or alcohol problem, while the proportion could be about half for those people seen by the residential shelters.
Apart from the Clairvaux Farm shelter for families, children are often the invisible homeless in the county, living in cars, moving from relative to relative, or finding temporary shelter with a parent in motels with Social Services aid.
The county public schools reported a steep increase in the number of children it classifies as homeless during the past year, Tom Kappra, the schoolsâ€™ chief financial officer, told the commissioners. The schools counted 334 homeless children, a 65 percent increase.
Such children often require additional services to try to keep them in school and learning adequately, he added. In addition, the county schools have a 14 percent â€śmobility rate,â€ť meaning families who transfer children in and out of local schools because they are â€śtransientâ€ť as they move around the county seeking shelter. Overall, 40 percent of Cecil County public school students come from families that are living â€śin poverty,â€ť school officials said.
The countyâ€™s contributions to the homeless shelters total $19,700 in the current budget.
Other non-profit organizations also submitting requests for aid are the Cecil County Arts Council, which is currently funded at $15,000 and is seeking $20,000 in Fiscal 2013; Lower Susquehanna Greenway, which operates in Cecil and Harford counties to ccreate nature trails along the river, receives $10,000 and is seeking the same amount in the new budget; and the Maryland Rural Development Corporationâ€”a statewide entity that promotes services and economic development in rural areasâ€”currently receives $14,825 from the county and is seeking the same amount next year.
Bayside Community Network and its â€śCamp CAREâ€ť program for people with mental disabilities is seeking $19,620, the same figure as the current budget year; and Upper Bay Counseling is requesting $9,500, the same as its current aid level.