HOUSING PLAN CONCERNS
Wednesday, 17 October 2012 11:42

The former convent adjacent to St. Luke Roman Catholic Church is slated to become Hosanna House, operated by Catholic Charities.  photo by Roland Dorsey

Hosanna House project will serve men 60 and over

by John G. Bailey

With the economy in its fourth year of duldrums, the need for housing programs to assist area residents who have fallen on hard times is high and  growing.
    Catholic Charities saw an opportunity to help alleviate this need in the former convent house situated between St. Luke Roman Catholic Church and St Luke’s Place in Edgemere. They bought the property 20 years ago and had operated an assisted living facility for seniors there before the much larger St. Luke’s Place was built and took over that function. 
    Plans for the structure originally called for a supportive services facility named Hosanna House for single men, regardless of age. However, a covenant in the deed of the property restricting occupants of the building to ages 60 and above, which Catholic Charities was bound by, necessitated a  revision.
    According to U.S. Census data from the 2010 census, nearly one in five Edgemere residents is 65 years or older. Following an assessment, the Baltimore County Department of Community Planning  found a gap in the continuum of care services for single older men. 
    Catholic Charities submitted a plan to Baltimore County to serve this population at Hosanna House. The organization applied for a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Development for funding the project. Catholic Charities received the grant, with the provision that Hosanna House had to begin operations by January 1, 2013.
    Hosanna House will provide homes, job placement and support services to 14 single men ages 60 and older.
    Mary Anne O’Donnell is director of Comunity Services Division of Catholic Charities and the point person for the project. She is quick to emphasize that Hosanna House will not be a homeless shelter or a halfway house for convicted felons, drug addicts or alcoholics. Prospective tenants will need to apply to live there. They must be drug-free for 30 days and must pass criminal background checks.
    As tenants, the men will be subject to random drug testing and be required to find employment and/or volunteer work at a non-profit institution. Thirty percent of any monthly income earned by each tenant goes to the program.  To help tenants transition out of Hosanna House, the men will be required to implement and follow a personal savings plan.
    As part of the Edgemere-North Point community, Catholic Charities has met with officials of St. Luke Roman Catholic Church and St. Luke’s Place and with the public at two meetings to inform the community about Hosanna House. During a North Point Peninsula Council [NPPC] meeting on Oct. 4 and an open house at Hosanna House the following week, a number of area residents voiced their concerns and opposition.  
    Safety, transparency and questions about the wisdom of locating Hosanna House in Edgemere characterized public comment at the two meetings. Judging from the reactions of residents who spoke, fear of pedophiles and a distrust of the screening processes to weed out potential sexual predators or drug addicts were not assuaged by explanations of safeguards or calls for compassion.
    Elizabeth Glenn, deputy director of Baltimore County Department of Planning and an advocate of Hosanna House, attended the open house. Her assurances of “Catholic Charities’ responsible and aggressive screening” and the efficacy of the county’s oversight of the program seemingly fell on deaf ears.
    Catholic Charities Director of Property Managment Rosemary Horstman, a St. Luke’s Place representative at the open house, attempted to assure skeptics: “We’re very confident that Hosanna House will make good neighbors,” but to no apparent avail.
    Benton Berman, manager of Holden Hall — a similar Catholic Charities facility in Baltimore — told fearful residents that no untoward incidents had ever occured between tenants and students of a Head Start center adjacent to his facility. Benton also testified to the thoroughness of the screening process and the oversight that managers, like himself, would exercise at Hosanna House.
    This was met by an attitude characterized by a declaration voiced by a man at both meetings: “Nothing anyone tells me will ever change my mind about it [Hosanna House]. I’m against it.” Another opponent insisted that “If just one crime against one child happens in 20 years, then it’s not worth it.”
    In otherwords, some residents wanted a guarantee that no one could give.
    The cancellation of a previous NPPC meeting due to reasons beyond the control of Hosanna House representatives led to charges of sneakiness or underhandedness by some residents; this despite the two public meetings so far with one more pending.             The demise of steel, the poor employment situation and the lack of public transportation in the area underlined doubts about the location of Hosanna House and the ability of tenants to find viable work.
    Fran Taylor, vice presidnet of NPPC, was at the open house and expressed general concerns about Hosanna House that fell short of outright opposition. He noted the discouraging demographics in the area — high poverty and unemployment rates, and the relatively low education levels of residents — and wondered how Hosanna House would benefit the community in a positive way.
    The NPPC general meeting slated for Thursday, Nov. 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Edgemere Elementary School will be dedicated to the Hosanna House project. The public is invited to attend.