COLUMBIA, MD -- Volunteers who gave their time to help homeless shelters earned a ticket to the 2009 Virgin Mobile Festival
at Merriweather Post Pavilion
For the first time, Virgin Mobile sponsored their Free I.P. program in which 13 hours of community service with a homeless youth agency earned a volunteer a V.I.P. ticket to the festival. Virgin Mobile gave 230 tickets to volunteers from the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area and approximately 50 to people who spent the most hours volunteering in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
Virgin Mobile works to help the homeless across the country but in Howard County, the location of the Virgin Mobile Festival and one of the most affluent counties in America, homelessness is an overlooked problem.
A point-in-time survey conducted in 2009 by the county’s Board to Promote Self-sufficienc
y estimated 174 homeless people including those receiving shelter services and those who were not.
Surveys have difficulty measuring multiple family homes and those at risk of homelessness. Joe Wilmott, a community advocate who is leading effort to develop 10-year plan to end homelessness, explained that the size of these groups is indicated by the fact that there are over 2,500 turn-away incidents from shelters every year.
Wilmott listed a number of reasons why people are homelessness. Economic hardship, loss of income, unexpected medical bills, bad money management, abandonment by a partner, domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental illness are all “contributors to homelessness,” Wilmott said.
Grassroots Crisis Prevention Center
is a non-profit organization that helps the homeless in Howard County. Grassroots was founded in 1969 as a volunteer organization and still utilizes volunteers today.
Director of Shelter Programs, Kathie DiNoto, listed the number of people Grassroots served in the last fiscal year: 85 people in the family shelter, 52 in the men’s shelter, 280 in the short-term motel placement program, and 79 in the cold weather shelter (running November through March). In addition, Grassroots also staffs a 24-hour crisis hotline.
Howard County citizens are less conscious of the extent of homelessness within the county.
“There’s always a need to do community education,” DiNoto said. “In Baltimore, you see homeless people. You see people sleeping on the street, you see people standing in line to get into a soup kitchen. In areas like Howard County, it’s a little more hidden. It’s not as ‘in your face’ here.”
The numbers of homeless in Howard County may seem insignificant compared to the staggering numbers from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. but the county government is working on its own plan to end homelessness which jurisdictions across the county are coordinating.
“I think it’s a very good, positive experience because we’re looking at the resources, we’re looking at the gaps in services, and we’re really looking at how to address those gaps,” DiNoto, a member of the county’s Committee the End Homelessness, said.
Howard County views the Free I.P. program and similar volunteer opportunities in a positive light. “I think it’s great,” DiNoto said. “I think this is a good way of exposing people to the needs of the community and also for them to be given. Anything that gets people out there and doing, I think is really helpful.”