Council approves $300K grant for homeless outreach center in Towson

Margarita Cambest

The Baltimore County Council voted Sept. 5 to approve a $300,000 grant to allow a homeless outreach program to purchase the downtown Towson building in which it has operated for many years.

The grant would allow Prologue, Inc. to purchase the building at 609 Baltimore Ave. from its neighboring owner, Trinity Episcopal Church.

The church has leased the property to the homeless outreach center for $1 annually for almost 20 years, according to Prologue president and CEO Sendy Rommel.

Prologue's mission is to create opportunities for people with behavioral health needs and those experiencing homelessness, according to federal tax records.

The nonprofit operates six administrative and program centers in the Baltimore metro area that offer psychiatric rehabilitation, residential rehabilitation, employment and housing services, according to its website.

Prologue’s Towson site, which offers outreach, laundry and shower services, is open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Rommel said Trinity officials presented Prologue with the idea to purchase the property to raise money for other ways of serving the community.

Church officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Despite operating out of the Baltimore Avenue facility for almost 20 years, Prologue did not have a long-term lease with Trinity, which many organizations require before granting money for repairs, Rommel said, adding that the grant would allow the nonprofit to continue to offer outreach, as well as laundry and shower services to the homeless community, Rommel said.

The light gray, two-story building has seen better days, she said. Stained paint and peeling roof tiles are visible from the exterior.

Prologue’s purchase and eventual ownership would allow the center to seek grant funding specifically aimed at repairing the facility, she said.

“People have said it’s an eyesore,” Rommel said. “Obviously there’s some work to be done. We keep the grass mowed and don’t get people hurt because a step needs to be repaired, but this will give us an opportunity to refresh the facility.”

Baltimore County Council member David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, said he requested the grant come before the County Council.

The Baltimore County charter requires that contracts involving expenses of $25,000 or more per year be approved by the council, Marks said.

After some residents raised concerns that the Towson facility operates like a shelter and keeps the business community from investing in Towson’s downtown core, Prologue and three local community organizations discussed the grant ahead of the vote to negotiate a compromise, Marks said.

With input from the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, the Greater Towson Committee and the Towson Chamber of Commerce, the County Council added requirements to the grant agreement that restrict some uses on the property.

No psychiatric services will be offered at Prologue’s Towson facility and overnight stays will be prohibited, Marks said in a Sept. 6 email. Additionally, Prologue must come up with a security plan, better signage that identifies contact information and must improve the deteriorating outside structure.

“This will truly remain an area where the homeless receive basic help on their way to job interviews or other locations,” Marks said.

Katie Pinheiro, executive director of the Greater Towson Committee, said the group was concerned that the property was not maintained and that housing, which Prologue’s other properties offer, would be added at a later date in a section of Towson currently surrounded by offices.

“It’s on a pretty nice corner of Towson, and we’re right on the corner,” Pinheiro said. “We wanted to make sure it was well maintained and taken care of and that it won’t be turned into a high-rise down the road.”

Pinheiro said the GTC, which advocates for smart development and revitalization in Towson's core, is hopeful the exterior of the property will be fixed up.

“We’re a nonprofit, too,” Pinheiro said. “We don’t do the kind of good work they do, but everyone is expected to follow the zoning regulations. I’m sure they’ll be a great owner, and we have no reason to believe that they won’t.”