ELKTON — The Cecil County Council approved an expedited resolution for the county to seek state funds to support Meeting Ground, despite Elkton Mayor Rob Alt’s concerns about using state tax dollars to perpetuate bringing the homeless community to his town.
Last week, county Department of Community Services Director Dave Trolio revealed that the department was seeking $380,000 over a two-year period in Maryland Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Homeless Initiative Funds. If granted, that money would add staff to Meeting Ground, a nonprofit that has been serving the county’s homeless community for 40 years.
“This is to simply bolster and refine the services that Meeting Ground is offering,” Trolio said during last week’s legislative session.
In the big picture, the state grant money would help establish Meeting Ground as a coordinated point of entry for the homeless population, which would help direct people to existing services and establish stronger partnerships in the community.
If the county’s grant application is successful. Meeting Ground would hire 2.5 full-time equivalent positions. One position would focus on establishing a coordinated point of entry. This staff member would also be responsible for increasing intake assessments, triage efforts and case management.
The other position would focus on coordination management for the emergency shelter that Meeting Ground runs, as well as street outreach. This position would require coordination with law enforcement, businesses and human service agencies to make services available to the homeless population, Trolio said.
A small portion of the grant is also allocated for some emergency shelter motel vouchers, which are used when the emergency shelter is full or not running.
Trolio said with the CBDG funds, Meeting Ground could put the focus on emergency shelter programs, which traditionally are run with volunteers through the county’s churches. But in the last two years, the winter emergency shelter has faltered when Five Rivers declined to consistently host it after several volunteers dropped out at the last minute. Five Rivers has still participated, but caps volunteering for a few weeks, but allows other churches to man its facility.
But Alt was against the county’s plan because in his mind it would continue making Elkton a “soft landing spot” for the homeless population.
“While the town of Elkton fully supports assisting our citizens who are in need of help, we do not support the continuation of making Elkton a ‘soft landing spot,’ a place where individuals from outside our county and in some cases, from outside our state, are transported and subsequently dropped off,” Alt wrote to County Executive Alan McCarthy.
In the letter, the mayor pointed out that the Point-in-Time survey shows that the homeless population had dropped in 2018, and service providers recognize that.
The Point-in-Time survey is a snapshot of the homeless community, and is conducted during one week in winter for federal funding. In 2019, a total of 126 homeless people were tallied — a slight drop from the 128 in 2018.
In 2018, many Point-in-Time volunteers worried that the count may have not been as accurate because some may have lost trust after the Elkton Police Department cleared out encampments on town property in October 2017.
Trolio and his team were in the process of scheduling a meeting with Alt to discuss specifics of their plan. McCarthy is scheduled to meet with Alt in Elkton Wednesday morning.
But on Sept. 3, Trolio made the case that Meeting Ground needed the financial resources to expand staff. The nonprofit runs shelters, lunch programs and other services as well as the emergency rotating shelter in the winter with volunteers from the local churches with seven staff members.
“It’s simply not enough resources. When we did [the study that assessed existing services], one of the things that resonated with me was how little resources exist for nonprofit providers in this community,” Trolio said. “The majority of funding comes from individual donations and they’re expected to do a lion’s share with limited resources.”
Meeting Ground Executive Board President Tina Poffenberger spoke on behalf of her organization, noting that while the county’s churches made excellent partners for the winter emergency rotating shelter, it’s become challenging to do without financial support or the manpower.
“You know, maybe one of these days, we can have no homeless in Elkton. But we can’t, if we don’t get some money and some support,” she said.
With or without the council’s vote on the measure, Meeting Ground already was a coordinated point of entry, added Jean Schedler, a member of Meeting Ground’s executive board.
“We are underserved. We don’t have the funds to meet the people that come to us. They’re going to come to us whether you pass this bill or not,” Schedler said. “We certainly welcome the support we’re going to need to do the job that needs to be done.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Meeting Ground Executive Board President Tina Poffenberger. We regret the error.