Story originally posted at news.wypr.org on Oct. 30, 2015.
Imagine an apartment with one bedroom, one laundry room, a dining area and a couple of bathrooms for 75 people. That’s about what Sarah’s Hope, a homeless shelter in Sandtown-Winchester, was like when it opened in 2008.
Now, after an $8 million expansion, the West Baltimore facility shelter is one of the few homeless shelters in the city that can accommodate intact families; mom, dad and kids.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake attended a formal grand opening earlier this month.
Toni Boulware-Stackhouse, who runs Sarah’s Hope shelters for St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, says they were not able to take men before the renovation because of how the facility was set up.
“We had the dormitory-styles for the women and the children and they didn’t have any privacy,” she says. “We can’t have men in that type of situation.”
The shelter on North Mount Street operated on one floor of an old school back then. In addition to the dorm-style bedrooms, it had only two bathrooms, two washing machines, two dryers and a kitchen and dining area so small they had to feed residents in shifts.
Now, the facility is one of the biggest homeless shelters in Baltimore City, accommodating up to 150 people.
The bedrooms are now on the second and third floors; each with a laundry room. The first floor has an expanded dining area, a health room staffed by a nurse practitioner from Healthcare for the Homeless and an early childhood center operated by PACT.
There also is a community meeting room with a separate entrance, recreation space for families to unwind, a classroom for workshops and a computer room where residents can hunt for jobs and permanent housing.
Teresa Eaton, communications director for St. Vincent de Paul, says the organizers thought hard about the needs of homeless people when they were planning the expansion.
“They’re already struggling with a number of different issues and the instability of homelessness is the largest one,” she says. “We wanted to make it seamless and we wanted to make it where we lessen the effects of homelessness on families.”
The renovations were funded by the city, state and private organizations. In addition to financial support and volunteers for operation, the shelter receives in-kind donations to support the families staying there.
“We have people who come and provide birthday parties for the families and the children; we have people who come and provide family portraits; things that in their time of struggle they would not normally have access to,” Eaton adds.
That is in addition to “tangible items” like diapers and women’s products for example.
Twenty-one-year-old Jada Roberts, a mother of four, is staying at Sarah’s Hope with her younger daughter. Her two sons are staying with their father and her older daughter is staying with her grandmother.
She moved in with her grandmother after she couldn’t afford her own place any more. But that didn’t work out and she began house hopping.
Roberts says staying at the shelter provided stability.
“I couldn’t let my kids keep seeing me house hopping from house-to-house,” she says. “I just thought it was a better chance to get on my feet.”
Roberts says she recently started working for Giant Food as a cashier and will move into her own place soon. She aspires to be a nurse after completing her GED and to make clothes and shoes for the homeless.
She also hopes to get all four of her kids together again and move out of the city.
“I don’t think Baltimore is where I want my kids to grow up at,” she says adding that she wants her family together and stable.
“For the main part, in the future, I just want my kids to have the best.”
The Next Hope
The next phase of renovations at Sarah’s Hope involves making the exterior of the building greener.
The $1 million plus project involves removing more than 700 square feet of pavement in front of the building and replacing it with grass, trees and a playground for children.
“What comes with being in a setting where a family feels like they’re at home is to be able to go outside and walk on grass and let your child play on a playground,” says Eaton.
The new green space is being developed with help from the City Department of General Services, the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and the Parks and People Foundation.
St. Vincent de Paul received a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help with the project through the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs initiative.