National Economic Woes Put Stress on St. Mary's Community - Southern Maryland Headline News

National Economic Woes Put Stress on St. Mary's Community




By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Jan. 29, 2009)—While St. Mary’s County is ahead of the national and state wide trends when it comes to maintaining its prosperity levels in tough economic times, many in the county are still feeling the squeeze according to a report from agencies with the newly formed Department of Human Services.

The report shows that the number of people running afoul of the law, asking for more social services assistance as well as seeking help with mental problems and personal and family crises are all on the rise.

"People are coming back to us because they can’t find a job." --Ella May Russell, director of the Department of Social Services
In the last six months, the report showed, the level of violent crime in the county has increased by 10 percent while the number of visits to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital has increased by 22 percent.

The number of county residents seeking help with issues such as emergency psychiatric services, housing assistance, food stamps, child support and substance abuse have all increased by 20 percent or more.

The three county homeless shelters, Three Oaks, Angel’s Watch and Leah’s House all report an increase in people looking for a place to stay.

The total referrals for families in 2008 as opposed to 2007 increased from 155 to 249. The actual number of families admitted to any one of the three shelters increased from 26 to 39 in just six months time.

"There are times when we think that St. Mary’s County is immune… but the statistics show it’s [the economic recession] is having an affect." --County Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills)
County social service agencies are able to put up many of the remaining families or single men and women in emergency motel space with vouchers or help find relatives who can take in the homeless, said Ella May Russell, director of the Department of Social Services, but the tasks are mounting quickly.

The problems become more serious when the homeless, who have frequently also lost their jobs, can’t seem to get back on their feet.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find employment for these people,” Russell told the St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners Tuesday. “People are coming back to us because they can’t find a job.”

Russell also reported that just under one-tenth of all families in St. Mary’s County are on food stamp assistance. “Our case load has almost doubled,” she told county commissioners.

The report’s data also shows that the number of people who have sought employment has skyrocketed from 168 six months ago to 1,065, according to Department of Social Services figures.

The number of domestic violence clients seeking help has more than doubled from 60 to 143.

Those seeking child care vouchers has also increased from 424 to 866.

Rev. Marguerite Morris, director of Leah’s House said that her organization’s planned women’s shelter in Valley Lee is coming closer to fruition, but until then, some cannot be helped.

“We’re very close to bringing the new shelter to the county,” Morris told the commissioners. “We do have to turn people away constantly.”

Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) said the report showed that St. Mary’s County, which has relied for decades on federal dollars to provide high-tech, military oriented jobs, could still feel the pain of the economic downturn.

“There are times when we think that St. Mary’s County is immune… but the statistics show it’s [the economic recession] having an affect.”

Commissioner Lawrence D. Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) said that the majority of county residents were unaware of the extent of the problem.

“We’re seeing two levels of society here,” Jarboe said. “The ones with the nice jobs… and they’re not seeing that 10 percent.

“There’s a part of our population that’s hurting.”

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