BALTIMORE – The death of a fiancee began one Project PLASE client’s descent into homelessness.
Steven, whose last name was withheld to protect his privacy, could no longer afford to live in the home he once shared with his companion of 14 years, an elementary school principal who died in July 2007, he said. At the same time, the Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, a former heavy drinker, began using cocaine in his grief.
It wasn’t until his Veteran Affairs substance abuse counselor referred him to Project PLASE in October 2007 that he began to recover.
Since 1974, Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment), has provided substance abuse treatment, mental health services, job placement and educational resources for the homeless. It’s provided transitional housing since 1978.
Now, like all social service agencies, it’s strapped for cash in a slow economy and struggling to purchase larger quarters to accommodate the demand for its services.
Project PLASE has 62 transitional beds and 103 units of permanent housing. The organization has 10 percent of its budget and will need to raise the remaining 90 percent, Executive Director Mary Slicher said. This is due to the fact that some of their sources have less funding to help Project PLASE, said Slicher.
According to a financial report available on Project PLASE’s Web site, the total program expenses in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, were $3,132,806, and total support services were $376,603.
“We’re pretty lean,” Slicher said.
So far, there have been no layoffs, and Slicher is in the process of applying for several grants. The amount of funding she is awarded will determine next year’s budget.
Project PLASE is also trying to purchase a 33,000-square-foot former millworks located directly behind the organization’s main building, according to the official Web site.
The organization is housed in a building purchased in 2001, and three older homes. The older facilities have become “overcrowded” and “inadequate,” Slicher said.
The new facility will provide 22 more rooms than current buildings, said Slicher.
Project PLASE’s goal is to raise $2.46 million by February. After the large building is purchased, the three older homes will be sold and the proceeds used to improve the new facility.
Slicher was a University of Maryland, Baltimore County student when she and other students founded Project PLASE over meetings in kitchens and dining rooms, she said.
They felt the conditions contributing to poverty and homelessness were wrong and did not think that the homeless shelters that existed at the time dealt with the “complexities” of homelessness, said Slicher.
“Housing is the foundation,” is the organization’s key approach used to address these complexities, Slicher said. A stable place to live provides food and a place to sleep; makes it easier for individuals to make positive changes in their lives; and gives HIV/AIDS patients a proper way to store their medication, said Slicher.
“We should start earlier, start with kids at school,” to teach them to end the cycle of abuse, Slicher said.
When the interview turns to the topic of a second economic bailout, a look of exasperation crossed Slicher’s face.
Slicher said the country has the resources to fight the cycle of poverty but that many changes are needed.
“It’s amazing what we can do when we decide to do it,” said Slicher.
“I think that with homelessness and poverty, and good education and substance abuse on demand and medical care for everybody, we don’t lack the resources, we lack the individual, spiritual, political, legislative, and social will to make it happen,” Slicher said.
The fact that Congress decided to bail out Wall Street before bailing out Main Street “highlights the priority” of elected officials, said Nancy Connor, director of programs and human resources. Connor hopes the second bill will be a “social bailout” that will also provide more resources for veterans.
Project PLASE’s approach worked for Steven, who credits it for helping him kick his cocaine addiction by giving him “a more structured way of life,” he said.
Steven has been able to retain his job as events coordinator at his church, participates in counseling and open group sessions, and receives help from the VA for his medication. He is moving into an apartment with his college-aged daughter, and is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with his family in his own home.
A positive outlook on the future is one of the crucial steps to changing one’s life at Project PLASE.
“Brenda,” 37, whose name was changed at her request, also credits Project PLASE with turning her life around. She said she thought that “once a junkie, always a junkie.” Brenda had tried marijuana for the first time at 12 or 13, she said, and started using heroin at 24.
The mother of five children ranging in ages 16-22 has been clean for a year.
Brenda receives housing and counseling services from Project PLASE, is in school, and her relationship with her children has improved, she said. She said the program helped her kick drugs and get her through a relapse.
Recently, Brenda was in one of meetings at the facility when her daughter called and asked her to watch her 2 month-old granddaughter, and Brenda said she would be available as soon as the meeting was over. It felt good to have her daughter trust her again, Brenda said.