How the pandemic factored in funding for new homeless shelter in Prince George’s Co.

The Prince George’s County Council signed off on a $5 million investment Tuesday in a new homeless shelter for the Warm Nights program, which has offered food and shelter to homeless residents around the Maryland county for years.

The money is coming from the American Rescue Plan, and that’s because the pandemic is changing the way nonprofits think about homeless shelters going forward, Warm Nights included.

“Warm Nights was generally 50 people in a big room, in a church basement on a cot, 6 inches from the next person,” said Tim Jansen, the executive director of Community Crisis Services, which has run the Warm Nights program in the county for more than a decade.

What the pandemic revealed was that “dormitory style situations, where you had 20 folks in a big dorm just breed things like COVID,” he said.

What was also discovered was that when homeless residents were put in motel rooms, it had a noticeable positive impact.

“There’s this amazing freedom, and this amazing strength that you see in a person when they have control over a bathroom door and control over a door between them and the rest of the world, even though it’s not technically their spot,” Jansen said.

That’s the kind of facility Jansen said they’ll be looking to acquire, now that the funding has been passed. Exactly where it will go isn’t clear yet.

“The appropriate area is somewhere that’s close to things people need,” he said. “Grocery store, transportation so they can get to work. Transportation so they can get to case appointments or mental health situations or doctors appointments.”

By being close to public transportation, Jansen said, you have that added benefit where transportation is “not a barrier to you moving on to stable housing.” He added that it’s his belief that some sites that fit what they’re looking for are available.

At a council meeting last week, Stanley Earley, the director of the county’s Office of Management and Budget, suggested the county might have to come back with more money next year to help complete the project.

“Becoming homeless isn’t so hard, finding affordable housing is,” Jansen said. Earlier this month, he said well over 150 rooms were being billed to the county to house homeless residents at three different facilities.

“We’re using lots of beds right now,” Jansen said.

In a statement to WTOP, Earley said the entire project is estimated to cost $8 million and will be covered with funding from the American Rescue Plan over the next two years.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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