In the beginning, there were the trailers. The trailers filled. Next, there was a too-small building and a growing need for space.
Now, after months of more trailers, renovations, and temporary placements, Rockville’s renovated Gude Drive Complex, a “public-private partnership providing emergency shelter, temporary housing, and a range of on-site supportive services to homeless men in Montgomery County,” has the room it needs.
On Thursday, June 18, the partnering organizations dedicated to the development of the Gude Drive Complex gathered together to celebrate the ribbon cutting for two new buildings. Sharan London, the executive director for the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (MCCH), recognized it as the “physical transformation of this complex and the transformation of the men who live here.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett counted the development as a success for Montgomery County.
“Success is not what we do for those on top,” he said. “The success of Montgomery County depends on what we do for the least of these in our society.”
The complex is home to the Home Builders Care Assessment Center, which provides emergency and hypothermia shelter, the offices for the MCCH, and Adrianne’s Safe Havens and the Chase Partnership House, both transitional housing programs.
The Home Builders Care Assessment Center provides 24-hour emergency shelter for 135 residents. Though the building has stood since 2000, there has been a much greater demand for homeless services. The recent development project provided room for 35 more men with a 3,780 square foot addition that allows for new laundry equipment, medical examination rooms, a computer lab, and meeting space.
The project also provided a new, 14,520 square foot shared facilities building for the Chase Partnership House and Adrianne’s Safe Havens, as well as the MCCH offices. The Chase Partnership House, which operates separately from MCCH, provides transitional housing for 35 homeless men in substance abuse recovery. Adrianne’s Safe Havens offers transitional housing for 15 homeless men who struggle with mental illnesses.
One emergency resident, James Toler, who has lived at Gude Drive since April, called the complex “the Hilton of shelters.” While the emergency beds are arranged in bunks and rows, Adrianne’s Safe Haven and the Chase Partnership House both offer more private living arrangements, with one to four residents per room. Though he has only lived at the complex since April, he also recalled a visit in 2000, when “Adrianne’s Safe Haven and the Chase Partnership House were in bad condition.”
This multi-partner project goes beyond simply housing Montgomery County’s homeless, however. The MCCH and the Community Ministries of Rockville provide residents with vocational training and counseling, educational resources, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and psychological counseling.
According to MCCH Vocational Counselor Doyle Currey, about 30 percent of the men in the vocational counseling program are placed in jobs during their stay. Some aspects of the vocational counseling include assessment tests, resume writing, interview practice, job readiness classes, and Internet job searching.
One Street Sense vendor and Montgomery County resident knows first hand what an impact the shelters have had on the community and in his life. Vendor Sean Riley has lived in both the Home Builders Care Assessment Center (or “the big house” as residents call it) and the Chase Partnership House, where he lives currently. Riley has lived in D.C. and Montgomery County shelters and now, with the help of the Chase Partnership House, is seeking his Bachelor’s degree for physical therapy from Montgomery College.
“I have brand new opportunities here,” he said. “They can serve a lot more people at the bigger shelters in D.C., but there’s more of a one-on-one approach here. We have resources.”
Riley’s next door neighbor and co-Street Sense vendor, Lester Myers, agrees.
“Thanks to this place, I have no reason or excuse to relapse again. Before, I was beginning to give up hope, thinking things couldn’t get any better. I’m feeling great now,” Myers said.
Myers’s account confirms the vision of County Council President Phil Andrews, who said he hopes the new buildings are “Not just a shelter for homeless men, but a place of hope for homeless men.”
One resident, Andrew Hampton, 63, reflected on his predicament. “I never thought I’d be homeless,” he said, “but then again, never say never.” Hampton is currently waiting on housing, and says that he’s thankful for the services provided at the Gude Drive Complex, “it makes you stronger,” he said.
The entire development project cost about $6.6 million, and was funded from both government and community efforts, and hopefully, the Montgomery County community will see positive results.
According to the Montgomery County Homeless Enumeration Narrative Report for 2009, there are 1,247 counted as homeless in Montgomery County – a nine percent increase since 2007. At least 500 of these are single adult men.
However, the report states that “possibly due to additional shelter availability,” the population of unsheltered and street homeless in the county decreased by 47 percent from 2008.
The problem of homelessness is increasingly prevalent in Montgomery County and the nation, but it is the hope of the Rockville and Montgomery County communities that this project will bring what Leggett called “humane and sanitary help” to the area’s homeless men.
“It’s not over today,” said Ted Smart, president of the Home Builders Care Foundation. “But it’s a start.”