Montgomery County’s only day center for homeless women is petitioning the county for a $150,000 grant as it attempts to compensate for diminishing federal funding.
The Montgomery Avenue Women’s Center, off of Wilkins Avenue in Rockville, depends on funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Montgomery County and the City of Rockville to support its $225,000 annual budget.
Bob Dorsey, the executive director of the center, said they expect to receive less support from HUD because the department has begun to give priority to funding housing initiatives, rather than services for the homeless.
About $150,000 annually, more than half of the center’s budget, has come from HUD for the past 12 years, according to Dorsey.
Although the Montgomery Avenue Women’s Center is planning to introduce its own housing initiative — a transitional home for up to four women — Dorsey said continuing to offer services is essential.
“We’re sensitive to [the HUD decision] and as we try to get housing for our programs we feel that in the meantime there are a lot of women that need to be taken care of while they wait for their own housing,” Dorsey said.
The center provides more than 35 women each day with meals, showers and laundry, but also offers job preparation services, life skills seminars, exercise classes, arts and crafts lessons and a clothing closet.
“Montgomery Avenue Women’s Center is a safe haven for women 18 and older who are basically homeless due to no fault of their own,” said Audra Cannon, the director of operations for the center. Many of the women, who the center calls “clients,” are not yet homeless but are at risk of becoming homeless.
Referrals from the Montgomery County Crisis Center are required for clients to receive all services offered by the Montgomery Avenue Women’s Center, but the center still makes an effort to accommodate the undocumented or “street” homeless. Women without referrals can shower, eat, wash clothes and make phone calls at the center, as well as use the center’s address for mail deliveries.
The center has completed applications for the Executive’s Community Collaboration grant and the County Council grant and must now wait until mid-March to see if their request will be included in the county budget. Even if a grant is included, the center must wait until the budget is approved in mid-May before they know if they will receive funds, which would not be allocated until after July 1.
“We’re hoping to get something from the county executive and the County Council because we are providing a service that needs to be here,” Cannon said.
One requirement for the County Council grant is compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that no one can be denied services based on an individual’s sex. Although the center offers services exclusively for women, Dorsey said they would not deny a meal to a homeless man if he asked for food.
“If a man came in there during lunch time and said he was hungry, we would probably go in there and get him a meal but tell him to contact the Crisis Center,” Dorsey said.
He added that offering services only to women sets the center apart from similar organizations.
“There are a lot of services available, and we just realized that little niche where we are exclusively for women has value in the eyes of women,” Dorsey said. “They prefer to come someplace and know they will be around women.”
Cannon added that the relationships the center establishes with its clients makes the center unique.
“We really get to know the ladies so we can honestly tell them when they’re doing good and give them suggestions to try out,” Cannon said.
The center helps women achieve self-sufficiency “by giving them the opportunity to feel important and look at the things they have to offer, to help them and encourage them to get back to that and do better,” she said.
If the center fails to receive funding from the county, Cannon and Dorsey said they would apply for other grants and reach out to the community for support.
Without funding, Dorsey said, all of the center’s services would suffer.
“How can you walk away after 30 years? How can you tell the women that? You can’t tell the women that. We shouldn’t just walk away from them,” Dorsey said.
Whether someone is donating to the Montgomery Avenue Women’s Center or volunteering, Cannon said it is important to remember how homelessness can hit close to home.
“People have to remember this could be them,” Cannon said. “This could be their mother, their cousin, their aunt. We would like for people to remember and be compassionate and generous and be able to volunteer their time with the mindset that this could be me and I want to do my part to help others.”