Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said residents of two Silver Spring, Maryland, neighborhoods saw their community centers closed to serve as homeless shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic, but its time for people to have access to their recreation programs.
In a July 21 letter to County Executive Marc Elrich, Hucker wrote that when the Long Branch and Coffield community centers in Silver Spring and Lyttonsville respectively were converted for use as homeless shelters, area residents “lost a valuable part of the neighborhood fabric along with a vital resources hub.”
Hucker told WTOP that officials in the Elrich administration “singled out two of the poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods in Montgomery County, predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods” when they decided to convert the rec centers into temporary homeless shelters.
Under the current plans, the centers will continue to house homeless residents while the county prepares a homeless shelter on Nebel Street in North Bethesda. That shelter won’t be completed until December.
Ken Hartman, who serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Montgomery County, said the rec centers would then need “a refresh,” and not be open to the neighborhoods until the end of January 2022.
Hucker called the move, “The wrong decision. It’s cruel, it’s insensitive, and it needs to be reversed.”
Hucker said homeless residents could be housed at a number of county facilities, including a department of parks building on Sligo Creek Parkway, which he said has access to transit.
There are 21 recreation and community centers across Montgomery County. Long Branch and Coffield are the only two that remain closed for public use.
Hartman said the Long Branch and Coffield centers were the best fit for the homeless population for the time being, and recreation programs are being offered in alternate locations.
“This is not a community that we walked away from just because of COVID,” Hartman said, referring to the Long Branch and Coffield centers.
According to Hartman, the county is in the process of rolling out a number of programs to the residents who use the two centers. Currently, a nearby church is offering social services, a food program and other pandemic-related assistance.
He also said the county had reopened the Long Branch library, and there community programs being offered there.
A soccer camp could be up and running in the next few weeks once staff from summer camps are available, Hartman said. He added that there are plans for after-school programs at Park Montgomery, an apartment complex on Piney Branch Road.
Hucker said community members should have access to the recreation centers, which serve as a sort of one-stop hub for a range of activities for children, teenagers and seniors. Residents had been patiently waiting for access to the facilities.
“A little bit’s been restored here and there in different places, but it’s not the same as having their rec center back,” Hucker said.
Hartman said the county executive had a “very productive meeting” about the plans for programming with Long Branch community members on July 12. However, Hucker said the meeting “didn’t go well,” although he did not attend the meeting himself.