By ESTHER NGUONLY, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Nearly 8,000 homeless people live in Maryland, according to an estimate released Wednesday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness—a population that is concentrated in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.
Kevin Lindamood, a vice president of Health Care for the Homeless, which operates in Baltimore City and in Frederick and Montgomery counties, said that while the federal government spends more than $1 billion on emergency homeless services, the number of homeless in the state has remained unchanged for the last 20 or 30 years.
Many point to the shortage of affordable housing as a major reason for homelessness.
According to a 2006 nationwide study of rents and wages by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Maryland ranks as the seventh-most expensive jurisdiction in the nation.
Shirley Wilson, administrator for Cecil County's Meeting Ground shelter, regularly sees about 70 homeless individuals in her four centers in the area. There is a great lack of affordable housing, she said, adding that many of the people she serves simply "don't make enough to get a regular place."
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who attended the conference, said the nation's shortage of low-income housing is among the most important issues exacerbating homelessness and needs an immediate remedy.
"It's a sad indictment of any kind of moral sense in this country," said Frank.
Frank attacked conservatives for failing to produce affordable housing, and criticized a Republican-backed voucher program to help individuals pay rent rather than investing in making units available.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness, using data based on information supplied by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, determined there are 744,313 homeless individuals nationally. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness estimated between 444,000 and 842,000 homeless nationwide in 1996.
The alliance estimate was based on counts of homeless people at a given time from each of the 16 continuum-of-care areas in Maryland, and includes both sheltered and unsheltered individuals. About 2,904 live Baltimore City, 939 in Prince George's County and 1,209 in Montgomery County.
Although Wilson said the number of homeless people has increased over the past decade, she has seen slightly fewer overall per year in her facilities. However, individuals are staying longer and are able to reach more services such as medical and Social Security benefits.
According to Lindamood, solutions to homelessness need to extend beyond federal emergency aid spending. The minimum-wage level has not kept up with the cost of living expenses and the budget for housing and urban development is nowhere near what is required to meet the needs of the homeless, he said.
"Despite a significant federal investment in emergency dollars," Lindamood said, "we have not, as a nation, provided enough resources to keep people off the streets."