Are Local Social Programs Sprawling too Far Apart?
The announcement earlier this year that the Maryland Department of Social Services was moving its local offices out of Downtown Frederick and into space on the northern edge of the city might have raised some eyebrows in the commercial real estate community, but most people glanced over a potentially bigger issue.
Is Social Services moving too far from the many city-based clients who need government and nonprofit assistance?
“I’m not going to hear anything about that until it actually happens because people are so present day, present everything, so as long as it’s right there, they are OK, but I am sure I’ll hear about” it if it moves, says Teri Kwiatek, the Frederick Rescue Mission’s outreach coordinator.
The proposed relocation of Social Services from 100 E. All Saints St. and into a space at 1888 N. Market St. needs to be approved by the state’s Department of Public Works and the new location would also require interior renovations.
County Executive Jan H. Gardner is one of several local officials who want Social Services to remain at its current location. “The interest in keeping the service Downtown is really to make sure the clientele that is served by the Department of Social Services has access to those services and that their needs can be met,” she says. “I do have concerns about moving out of Downtown in terms of people’s ability to walk to the department for services because we do know we have a couple hundred people, maybe as many as 300 people a month, who actually are walking and also the access to bus service is really optimal at that Downtown location. In addition, there are other services Downtown and other nonprofit human service agencies that work in partnership with the Department of Social Services and citizens services to make sure people’s needs are met.”
It is just under 2.5 miles from East All Saints Street to the proposed new location one way—about an hour to walk. “To me, [the relocation is] unreasonable and unacceptable,” says state Del. Carol L. Krimm, whose district includes the city.
“I have been working with the treasurer’s office. I called the Department of General Services the other day and tried to understand how they can expect people who walk to that office, who are perhaps dropped off at that office by car in the Downtown area or people who take TransIT, how this is all going to work at a building that is a couple of miles away? I can’t image a family with children and a stroller in the middle of winter or in the middle of the summer or a disabled person walking all the way out to that building. I’m just at a loss and I make this case when I talk to people at the state level about this issue.”
Frederick Mayor Randy McClement says he looks at the potential move from an economic development perspective. “While it is a state-run business, it is still a business,” he says. “There are still employees in there. Those employees come to work, go out to eat, possibly shop and stuff like that so I would love to keep that employee base in the City of Frederick.” He, along with the city’s economic development officials, plan to work with the building’s owner if the move takes place. “We don’t like to see anybody leave, but we just want to make sure we provide any help we can to any building owner to reoccupy their buildings,” he says. “… The east side of town is where we are trying to promote our next area of growth, especially along Carroll Creek, and having spaces available is also another benefit for new businesses.”
McClement says if the move takes place, the city is looking at installing a new traffic light and crossing at the intersection of Wormans Mill Court and North Market Street near the relocation site. “From our aspect, we are trying to figure out ways to help in any [way of] getting people to and from [the proposed site].”
Gardner says the county also will take a look to make sure there’s adequate bus service to the site. “We will certainly do our best to try to make sure people get the services that they need and we will coordinate that with the Department of Social Services,” she says.
There is no denying that moving Social Services spreads out programs for homeless or low-income residents that are already sprawled across the map. Need to find a job? Frederick County Workforce Services is out on Spectrum Drive near Francis Scott Key Mall. Want to see someone at the county’s Health Department? Head over to Montevue Lane by Fort Detrick. If you need services at the county’s Department of Aging, you’ll need to go to Taney Avenue. The distances can make it difficult to get services to those who need them the most. “They put these services in places that are the least expensive and that means that they are spread apart pretty badly while they are not so concentrated that they create a stigma for the area they are in,” says Alan Feinberg, community activist.
Many people tell the Rescue Mission’s Kwiatek they need a job. “When I do tell them to go to the Workforce Services [building], I don’t hear, ‘Oh. I can’t get there,’” she says. “People can walk there, really. I know people walk to Spectrum Drive from Downtown Frederick. That’s not out of the realm.”
She knows it’s quite a hike—2.5 miles one way from Downtown, but folks do it every day. Many homeless individuals walk or bike to locations. Those who are lower-income sometimes use a vehicle or get family or friends to give them a ride. Others take a TransIT bus which has stops near all services buildings.
Frederick County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer says her department offers a variety of services throughout the county, including substance-abuse treatment program on Scholl’s Lane and mental health services in Emmitsburg. The department also comes to those in need with programs including dental screenings in the public schools and into homes as a part of the Infants and Toddlers program for children with developmental delays or disabilities.
The Frederick Community Action Agency has been offering daily van runs for those in need of transportation to services such as substance-abuse treatment, mental health appointments and pharmacy needs since 1989. The appointments are generated by clinic staff and case managers. “We want to make sure people are able to access the services and that transportation is not a barrier,” says Mike Spurrier, Community Action Agency director. The free service can take up to 10 people in their handicap accessible van. “There is usually space almost every day,” he says.
The Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs hands out vouchers daily to those who qualify for bus transportation and gas while also connecting others to the Community Action Agency’s resources. “We are always trying to network with other folks and other agencies to provide additional services,” says the Rev. Brian Scott, executive director for the Religious Coalition.
But those who help the needy are definitely watching to see if the Social Services move takes place. “I have mixed opinions about it,” Spurrier says. “I think it is nice to have services Downtown and to have jobs Downtown. On the other hand,
I think that sometimes more affordable space can be found elsewhere. I think that parking also is a big issue. I believe where the Department of Social Services is talking about moving there is a large parking lot available and they won’t have to pay for parking for their staff and certainly their customers will have better access to free parking. It’s a little bit of a trade-off I guess.”
Scott says it’s much easier for residents when services are Downtown where there’s more transportation than outside the city. “Many of the folks, whether they are homeless or families that have issues with poverty, those are the ones that have the most challenges with being able to get to services including getting to work and those kinds of things,” he says. “It’s much easier if there are services that are close to where people live.”
“I think there is a significant group that can get to these places [for service] and there is also another significant group that cannot,” says Arnold Farlow, executive director of the Rescue Mission. He doesn’t favor Social Services moving. “The greater the need, the more likely they are not able to get over there. We have a lot of folks who are working $15-, $18-an-hour [jobs] and they just cannot afford to live in Frederick. They are working hard and they are just not making ends meet so they are doing everything they can to survive.”
Gardner says she has been looking at improving county services. “Obviously for cost savings, we want to get out of as much lease space as we can and bring services into space that the county already owns,” she says. “That is one objective.
The other is to locate services together that make sense to be together. We are looking to co-locate Workforce Services, which is on Spectrum Drive, with Frederick Community College’s Advanced Technology Center [on Monroe Avenue] and we are really very excited about that. … Putting our Workforce training staff with the Advanced Technology Training Center with the community college really helps to connect people who are looking for jobs with training and [helping to] find a new job where the market has jobs, so I really think it makes great sense. … It just adds to the one-stop shop kind of service that we can collectively provide to people who are looking to retrain and retool themselves for another job.”
Renovations will be made with some state funding to the center and are in the current budget. Construction should be complete in summer with the move finished by Sept. 1.
Gardner also plans to move Housing and some of the Citizen Services agencies that are currently at the Public Safety Training Facility on Reichs Ford Road into the former Head Start building, across from McCutcheon’s Apple Products near Carroll Creek. Renovations are expected to last until the end of September, with the Citizens Services and Housing department operational there by Nov. 1.
“I think it makes sense to co-locate human services together so that people who have a need can touch multiple agencies at the same time,” Gardner says.
“I think it makes sense for them to work together. I really wanted to bring services back Downtown that were on the outskirts of town because they are harder for people to access and they were really isolated from people that they work with and, in terms of Workforce Services, it will ultimately save the county money over time because we are getting out of lease space.”