The buildings on the edge of Fort George G. Meade, with their sturdy two-story design, resemble a line of rehabilitated Army barracks.
That’s what they are.
In 1987, in a unique partnership between the Catholic Charities based in Baltimore, the U.S. Army and Anne Arundel County, the doors on Sarah’s House opened. Barracks the Army no longer used were reconfigured to serve as a shelter for homeless families in the county.
Sarah’s House gradually expanded to where it now serves up to 125 adults, teens and children with its emergency shelter and supportive housing programs.
On March 23, Dr. Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, toured the facilities at Sarah’s House and held a roundtable discussion with several residents.
“Our program houses families,” Daly said. “People come as a unit and we keep families intact. But there are lots of things they’re required to do. Basically, they can be housed for up to three months, unless they qualify for Project North.
“Those that do are required to hold jobs working 40 hours weekly. Their kids need to be enrolled in a school. They can stay up to two years.”
The apartments range in size from one- to three-bedroom units.
“We have an accredited pre-school program on site, an infant through preschool daycare program, and before- and after-school programs so parents can go to work,” said Kelly Anderson, director of client services.
One client — Eugene, 32, a single father — agreed to meet with a Capital Gazette reporter and photographer.
After the initial three-month stay, Eugene and Destini, 5, one of his three daughters, now live in a double apartment with two small kitchens, two baths and two bedrooms. Destini’s mother died in January 2014. The mother of his two younger daughters decided against staying in the initial program and moved out with 22-month-old Ari’yonna and 11-month-old Malaysia. Her move came a couple weeks before Eugene learned he had qualified for the long-term Project North program.
The younger girls visit often though.
The apartment is located across the hallway from the Sarah’s House library. Its walls are lined with books and there are a number of comfortable chairs in which to curl up with a good book.
Eugene has a job at a Chili’s restaurant and was recently promoted. He is working to pay off expenses and is attending driving school.
“My eventual goal is to become a certified cook and, someday, open a restaurant,” he said. “I enjoy cooking and plan to go to business management classes in a couple months at Anne Arundel Community College location at Arundel Mills mall. Here, I can come and go as I please within the rules.
“I can have company. I enjoy playing with my daughter. I am allowed to add color and brightness to the apartment.”
When Destini’s mother died, Eugene and his child initially stayed with a cousin and then lived in a hotel for two months, which used up his savings.
Once accepted into the three-month program at Sarah’s House, Eugene quickly found a job and accepted guidance in how to budget and save his income. He learned, instead of calling a cab or an Uber, he can pay Sarah’s House $5 a day for unlimited local transportation that day. Once he’s gotten his driver’s license, he’ll be able to register, insure and legally drive a truck he owns.
A look inside
The double apartment is small. Each has a kitchenette with a four-burner stove and blonde wooden cabinets, and white appliances, counter and backsplash. There is a space in one room for a TV viewing spot, and, in the second apartment, a dining spot and small sitting area.
All the furniture, provided by Sarah’s House, is sturdy and utilitarian. But Eugene has brightened the place with touches of red, particularly red covers on a love seat in one seating area, accompanied by a stuffed armchair draped with a bold red and black plaid cover.
The dining table he dressed up with a white cotton bedsheet, red placemats, blue and white painted dishes and bowls, glass stemware, and a potted tulip.
The two bathrooms are dressed up, too. One sports a blue shower curtain printed with photographic images of schools of dolphins; the other has a red and gold brocade print.
Destini decorated her bedroom. The rug is a spread featuring the Hello Kitty character. The ladies from “Frozen” peer out from the lower level of the double bunk bed, accompanied by a giant pillow printed and shaped to resemble a butterfly. A family of stuffed animals has taken over the top bunk. They peer out at visitors with smiley eyes.
On a wall near the entrance to Destini’s room is a mélange of photos and reminders of Eugene’s daughters.
In Eugene’s bedroom, he’s hung a replica of Ray Lewis’ Ravens No. 52 jersey. The bed beneath it is covered with a gold brocade comforter and dotted with red and gold pillows. A framed photo of Eugene with Destini rests atop a wooden bureau.
Eugene is grateful to be a Sarah’s House resident.
Outside, he noted, there are two playgrounds, one for the preschool and the other for regular use. It has a basketball court, volleyball court and a playing field.
“My daughter runs everywhere and loves using the slide, monkey bars and bicycles,” he said. “There are case managers here who can advise me on social services, transportation and medical services. The library has books, computers, the internet. I can do homework or online tutoring.
“Best of all, there are people here to coach me and guide me.”