Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced John Butler as the new chief of the county’s Department of Fire and Rescue Services on Jan. 20. Butler has served as acting chief since December 2014 and has been a member of the department since 1993. He is the first chief to have held every rank in the department.

“After I took office … I got a lot of résumés and a lot of really good people [applying for the position],” Kittleman said. “It was not an easy decision, but in the end there was one person that did stand out, who devoted his life to serving in the military and 22 years in service to Howard County.”

Butler was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and graduated from Oakland Mills High School in Columbia.

“This is a tremendous responsibility,” he said. “The county’s combined department is one to be proud of. I’ll continue to ensure safety initiatives for our responders, as well as foster values and integrity and advocate for every area of the county.”

Butler pledged to strengthen the collaboration between volunteer and career personnel, and to sustain and enhance a culture of innovation within the department.

School Fund Shuffle

Bruce Gist, director of the Division of Operations for the Howard County Public School System, requested that the county council approve a transfer total of $4,036,000 between capital projects in the Board of Education’s capital budget for fiscal 2015.

“Cedar Lane School renovations have been on the books for a number of years, and we think we have a better use for the money at this time,” he said. “We’d like to readdress Cedar Lane at another time.”

According to Gist, a surplus exists for projects at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School and Folly Quarter Middle School, which came in under budget, as did projects for Gorman Crossing Elementary School and Phelps Luck Elementary School.

Schools that would benefit from the transfer include Thomas Viaduct Middle School, Laurel Woods Elementary School and Deep Run Elementary School.

Brent Loveless, speaking for the Forest Ridge Elementary School PTA, asked the council to consider cause and effect in their decision.

“We are competing with about three other elementary schools for the most crowded elementary school in the Howard County School System,” Loveless said. “How does this help with overcrowding in the east, or overcrowding in general? A certain number of housing units may be able to be built as a result of this; there may be a certain amount that may be able to be restricted. But we do know we have overcrowding issues, and we’re trying to address them as best we can.”

Homeless Housing

Also in January, the county council tabled a resolution amending the amount of county owned property being transferred to the county Housing Commission for a proposed homeless residential facility in Jessup.

“Housing projects in commercial zones have to be a minimum of three acres,” Housing Commission Director Tom Carbo told the council during its January work session. “We originally asked for 1.7 acres, which was approved, and we’re adding 1.3 acres, for a total of three.”

During the work session, council members considered concerns raised by residents of communities near the proposed site and asked for an appraisal of the project.

According to Carbo, two key elements of the county’s Plan to End Homelessness, adopted in 2010, called for replacing the existing Route 1 Day Resource Center and providing small efficiency apartments (SEA) for chronically homeless individuals.

“Volunteers of America (VOA) is really the only nonprofit organization in this area that does development work, property management and provides the type of resident services for homeless individuals that we’re looking for,” he said.

The county abandoned plans to locate the combined facility on the former Beechcrest Mobile Home Park in North Laurel and chose the current location behind a Salvation Army thrift store on Guilford Road as an alternate site.

VOA Program Details

Councilwoman Jen Terassa (D-Dist. 3) pressed VOA representatives for a better understanding of their program’s operations and goals, explaining that she sensed many community concerns were fed by the lack of this information.

VOA President and COO Russ Snyder said the organization provides affordable housing and services for case management, support and social work for a lot of different populations, including the homeless.

Jim Sents, VOA’s vice president for Homeless Services, said the 35 SEAs are permanently funded through project-based Section 8 vouchers. Tenants apply for residence through a coordinated system of homeless services in Howard County, with a review panel, as well as a scoring system based on need. Final approval is made by the Department of Housing.

Sents added that a community living arrangement lays out rules and standard procedures governing resident behavior, visitation and the prohibited use of drugs and alcohol, and noted that a property manager will be available to field questions or concerns about resident behavior from neighboring property owners.

“There are supportive services on-site to help individuals address any problems,” he said. An in-house, graduated, progressive disciplinary process deals with infractions, beginning with informal sanctions and moving on in intensity to mandated treatment and ultimately eviction, as a last resort.

Though rare, eviction follows an appeal process and requires a 30-day notice that allows VOA staff to try to find alternate housing or shelter for the evictee, Sents said.

Making a Dent

In total, the project will cost a little more than $10 million, Snyder said. Of that figure, $4.25 million comes from Housing Commission bonds that have already been issued. There is also a $500,000 Federal Home Loan Bank Board grant, $250,000 in state funding, Community Development Block Grant funding of $225,000 and a county match of the same amount.

“VOA applied to the state of Maryland on behalf of the Housing Commission for partnership funds and Shelter and Transitional Grant funds [for the difference],” Snyder said.

For services, VOA is asking the Department of Citizen Services for a grant of $125,000 to $150,000 per year, and Medicaid funding will provide an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 per year. “Hopefully public support will close the gap,” Sents said.

“We’re looking to make homelessness brief and rare, not something that lasts for six or eight years,” said Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center Executive Director Andrea Ingram. “They will have the opportunity to move beyond this if they choose.”

Citing the county’s last point-in-time survey, which counted 170 homeless comprised of both families and 98 single adults, Sents pointed out that 22 of the single adults lived without shelter. “This single efficiency apartment program is almost going to cut that number in half,” he said. “Certainly the unsheltered will be removed, assuming they’re eligible.”

“Part of this is to use a housing first model and eliminate the crisis of [not] having a roof over their heads, so you can begin to deal with other issues,” Carbo said. “It’s more cost-effective than dealing with folks who are in a constant crisis situation.”