Catholic Charities of Baltimore plans to create a residential program on the St. Luke's Place campus in Edgemere for as many as 14 homeless men.
And Edgemere residents—at least those attending a small informational meeting Monday night—aren't happy about it.
The "permanent housing" program will be installed in St. Luke's Catholic Church's former convent, which is nestled between the St. Luke's Preschool and St. Luke Place, a senior housing complex, on Lodge Farm Road.
Benton Berman, who is the director of Holden Hall, a similar Catholic Charities program in Baltimore City, told about 25 local residents that the former convent is the perfect place for such a program, given that it has 14 individual bedrooms with what he referred to as "Jack and Jill bathrooms," a kitchen, living room, dining room and residential manager office space.
Some renovations will be needed to modernize the building, but the essential amenities needed are in place, he said.
Residents think Edgemere, an isolated peninsular community without public transportation and little access to the type of resources needed by such a program, is the wrong place for Hosanna House, as Catholic Charities has dubbed the project.
Hosanna House would be "the worst thing in the world for this community," one woman told Berman and other Catholic Charities, St. Luke's Place and Baltimore County government employees in attendance.
She's lived in Edgemere since the 1960s and said the community has no need for something like Hosanna House, she believes.
Community members also took exception to the assertion that St. Luke's Place residents are all on board with the proposal.
"The residents are afraid of this, and they're afraid to say anything," one woman said of the proposal.
In response to community opposition to a previous proposal that would have had the program serving younger men, Catholic Charities officials now recommend creating the program for homeless men ages 60 and older.
The age change also changes the dynamics of the program, according to Mary Anne O'Donnell, director of community services for Catholic Charities.
"The employment picture is very different for seniors," O'Donnell told the group. "There might be people who would need to live here the rest of their lives."
Led by a director and a case manager, Hosanna House will provide permanent housing, job placement and support services for the selected men.
While the goal is to have the men achieve the highest level of independence possible and the ability to support themselves, that might not be possible for the older population, according to Catholic Charities officials.
Many residents are concerned about the proximity of the program to the preschool, the senior housing complex and adjacent private homes.
Others voiced concerns about the screening process and worry that individuals with criminal backgrounds would be "dropped" into the community.
Berman said, while the program may house those with mental illnesses or drug and alcohol addiction, no convicted felons would pass the screening process.
One woman said she heard that applicants must be drug-free for 30 days prior to being accepted, and asked Berman if that was true.
He confirmed it is true, and said that, while some men might struggle with drug use, that's different than a drug conviction.
Berman also said Catholic Charities has a "one and done" policy with regard to breaking the rules. Men are expelled from the program for breaking rules, he said.
After the meeting, Berman said Baltimore County officials told Catholic Charities leaders of the need for such a program in Baltimore County.
"The county said there's a need—they identified the problem and we had the building," Berman said.
Community members pointed out that the Archdiocese of Baltimore already owns two surplus buildings in Dundalk near St. Rita Catholic Church that would be better placed for such a program, with proximity to bus lines and an abundance of social services resources.
Catholic Charities officials said a future program may fit there.
The program, which will cost about $212,000 a year to operate, will be funded by a federal grant. Berman said he hopes to have the program operational by early 2013, a fact that doesn't set well with residents.
"So if the community doesn't want this, will it be shoved down our throats?" one woman asked Berman.
Berman said that decision wouldn't be his call, and told residents that Catholic Charities still has to be granted a zoning special exception to start the program.
Lodge Farm Road resident Justin Kirkpatrick is strongly opposed to the program being held directly across the street from his house, and expressed his anger that local elected leaders have already voiced support for the program despite community opposition to the proposal.
"I talked to [Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr.] and he's all for it," Kirkpatrick said. "So we know who not to vote for."
Berman promised to hold more meetings with community stakeholders.
Fran Taylor, vice president of the North Point Peninsula Community Coordination Council, said his group would be willing to host a community-wide meeting in early November.
After the meeting, Kirkpatrick said he would be contacting Olszewski again about the project and would remain vocal in his opposition to it.
"They come in here with all the answers they think we want to hear, and they bring in the top three residents from a similar program," he said. "We just do not want this here."