Cold Temperatures and The Challenges of Homelessness

Cold Temperatures and The Challenges of Homelessness

Frigid temperatures are upon us and many people do not realize that others are not as privileged to have necessities like food and shelter. For individuals experiencing homelessness, winter is a ruthless challenge. The brutal weather conditions make life on the street even more difficult than usual.

The Harford Community Action Agency (HCAA) is a local organization in Harford County, Maryland that “is dedicated to providing assistance to help all Harford County individuals and families who are experiencing financial hardships in meeting their housing, food, energy/heating, and/or budget, and family counseling needs,” said Brian Wainwright, Senior Director of the Supportive Services Program. “We support and encourage them on their path to self-sufficiency.”

Brian, along with CEO Pamela Craig, gives us a glimpse into what the HCAA does and why, and how homelessness is still such a large problem in so many areas.

What is your role? My role as the Senior Director of the Supportive Services Program (SSP) is to oversee day-to-day operations within the primary Coordinated Access System (CES) location of Harford County. The CES is the provider that triages all households that are currently at risk of being homeless or are already experiencing homelessness.

This level of triaging is to help link community-based resources to each household with the hope of improving as many areas in their lives as possible…Each household will complete a Self-Sufficiency Matrix (SSM) assessment which is a best practices prioritization tool…to identify whether or not a household is thriving in an area or is…in crisis and needs resources and/or assistance in other areas. The SSM categorizes the most vulnerable households…It was voted upon by all Local Homeless Coalitions (LHC) under the Balance of State with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development that it made sense to invert this prioritization score meaning, the more vulnerable households incur a higher score.

If a household is Category 1 [which means they are] literally homeless and are living in a place not meant for habitation, such as a tent encampment or personal vehicle, or is a Category 4 [which means they are] currently fleeing or experiencing domestic violence, [they will be] be added to a By Name List (BNL). The BNL provides [a file] of prioritized households experiencing housing insecurities and ranks their vulnerability. This list of households is then merged with available community-based fair market rental options in or adjacent to Harford County.

The CES Provider is also responsible for…speaking with LHC (Local Homeless Coalitions) providers who may have availability within their emergency shelter, transitional housing, or permanent supportive housing programs for immediate placements for the most vulnerable referrals. In theory, a higher SSM score and the length of homelessness for a household on the BNL will prompt a referral to the program with the availability.

…This intervention is called the Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) Program. RRH provides grant assistance to help households transition from homelessness into an affordable rental unit. The length of rental assistance is based upon the progress made by the household…HCAA is one of five RRH Program providers in Harford County. [Others include] Anna’s House, Harford Family House, Welcome One Emergency Shelter, and SARC, which is a Harford County Domestic Violence Safehouse provider…

Aside from these programs, which usually are primarily for families with children, the Supportive Services Program (SSP) department is also responsible for maintaining a Wait List for single adults facing homelessness and needing emergency shelter. Harford County currently only has one night-by-night shelter for single adults over the age of 18 that provides bed space for thirty-two people in need. There are twenty-six beds for a person who identifies as a male and six beds for a person who identifies as a female. The SSP Department is the only CES (Coordinated Access System) location in Maryland that holds both the “By Name List” for permanent housing destinations and maintains the referral list for the night-by-night emergency shelter.

What is the biggest challenge you see in Harford County?
1. Secondary trauma experienced by the SSP Department…the mere fact that we, as a staff, have to say “no” more than we can say “yes”. Meaning, that most households, whether [they are] single or have children within its composition, are looking for an immediate option to improve their housing insecurities. However, due to a very low bed capacity for emergency shelters in Harford County, the SSP Department has to waitlist families with the highest need for emergency shelter while we attempt to transition them from Category 1 or 4, right into permanent housing and skipping emergency or transitional housing.

2. A bigger commitment to the development of affordable housing. [There is] tons of construction in Harford County for luxury apartment complexes, but there is now a steady commitment to communities that will offer a variety of income levels, like the most recent development in Havre de Grace…There needs to be more communities like these that will cater to zero- to low-income families who will never be able to afford fair market rental options in Harford County.

3. A growing population of homeless people are those who are sixty-two years of age and older. There needs to be the same commitment to…senior housing [as well.]

4. A vast improvement to homeless prevention programming in Harford County. The available safety net sits with the Department of Social Services (DSS). The Harford County Department of Social Services holds the EAP and EAFC grants to assist Harford County residents with grant funds. Emergency Assistance Program (EAP) will cater to households with all adults within its composition for rental assistance. This grant is usually fully exhausted by the beginning of the second quarter for each fiscal year because it only offers $16,000 for the year! The Emergency Assistive for Families with Children (EAFC) will cater to households with dependents under 18 years of age or younger. This grant is usually fully operational for the full fiscal year but the main caveat to each grant is that each household must be in a position to pay the remaining balance. For example, if I owe $1,000.00, DSS will pay $500.00 but only if I can pay $500.00. Otherwise, I will not be assisted! I am certain that this policy perpetuates homelessness in Harford County. HCAA has grant funds to help supplement community needs, but we are routinely only provided roughly $16,000 per fiscal year for this intervention, and it is not enough!

5. Lack of Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The COVID-19 rental assistance program has been shut down in Harford County for quite some time, and yes, there are still households financially impacted by COVID-19, but there is no program in Harford County to assist. The Department of Housing and Community Services in Bel Air had this program but there were issues with funding to continue this.

6. Bigger commitment from housing communities to accept grant assistance…the barrier is that housing providers request applicants to make two to three times the rent, which is absurd because I know working professionals in the county who cannot afford a large percentage of rentals in Harford County. So imagine the challenges faced by clients for whom we are advocating! Some housing providers will not accept grant assistance which is a source of income discrimination according to the Fair Housing Act.

Harford County definitely needs additional emergency shelters, mainly for single adults, but the county…could use additional bed capacity for families with children too. The demand of [families] experiencing housing insecurities is far outweighing the supply of emergency shelters and permanent housing options in Harford County.

Do you feel that support for those in need has gotten better over the last few years? I personally feel as though the level of assistance has remained the same. There are providers in the community that are known to assist households in this circumstance, [but] there is no additional assistance in the community to help us address this long list of names. HCAA routinely advocates to local government officials to express what is needed and what is not working, but that conversation has been labored and gone on for years. I began working at HCAA in 2017, and this was a community concern prior to [when I came] to HCAA so why are we still “just talking” about this? Where is the action? I often feel like a burden or simply unheard by most people that I speak with because I am saying the same things for years. But [there is] also the same lack of willingness to do something about this problem so I feel like a tire in the mud. Now that HCAA is under the Balance of State with Maryland DHCD, this level of advocacy has reached the state as well. I personally sit on the Interagency Council of Homelessness and have advocated for community needs of Harford County to this collective body as well.

…The same providers are the ones communicating the same needs and nothing has happened. These providers feel as though the local government and county council do not believe there is a homeless problem in Harford County, but if you look around, it is not hard to find. Or if they acknowledge there is a problem, there is an assumption that the programming available will offset this problem because providers have adequate capacity, but that is simply untrue. There has been research completed in Harford County by the Department of Housing and Community Services that strongly suggests everything that I said in regard to the need for more development of affordable housing and the expansion of shelter to address the growing problem in the county. To be honest, I am not sure if those who sit in positions of influence have even read [it.]

What are your programs and how do they help the community? [In addition to what was mentioned earlier] …HCAA offers the Maryland Energy Assistance Program for households facing utility shutoffs, a Food Advocacy program, a Food Pantry on-site at our physical office location at 1321-B Woodbridge Station Way in Edgewood, Maryland 21040.

For more information about the Harford Community Action Agency or how you can become a part of the solution, please visit

Read the Note on Matters of Mental Health by Wendy

“The winter months resemble active addiction. It’s the coldest and darkest time of the year, and nothing grows. Life around us is dormant, not unlike active addiction. Drugs and alcohol create a period in life where personal growth and healthy relationships temporarily or permanently stop. When you start to wonder whether or not your loved one is using, that is when you already know. The best thing you can do when you feel helpless is to take care of yourself first. ”

Please check our Event Calendar for more details about what we are up to!

We will be at Harford Community College in Bel Air, MD again this spring for its Alcohol Awareness and Mental Health Awareness campaigns. Stay tuned for dates and details!

April 11, 2024Pick up your RaceKit for our 2024 Memory Walk / Recovery Run. Weichert Realtors (414 South Main Street – Bel Air, MD 21014) is kindly offering their space to us from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Racekits are available for those who sign up by April 10th.

April 13, 2024: Join us for our 2024 Memory Walk / Recovery Run at Cedar Lane Regional Park (1100 Cedar Lane – Bel Air, MD 21015). Gates open at 8:00am and the race kicks off at 9:00am. We will celebrate TEN years of community service in 2024 so check out our special pricing for participants 18 and under. We will remember. We will honor. We will support. We will celebrate. Please register here: 2024 Memory Walk / Recovery Run.

  • If you are a local business that would like to be a unique part of this event, please consider sponsoring us. Details can be found here. Every dollar counts. Every life matters.
  • We are looking for like-minded organizations to become a resource vendor at our event. If you are in the field of mental health and/or addiction recovery/treatment, please join us. You must register as a runner/walker for the event, and bring your own table, chair, and tent. Sign up here.

We serve locally but think globally. For counseling, or for addiction, substance abuse disorder, or mental illness treatment, please contact your area’s health department, county government, hospital, or law enforcement agency.

Addiction Connections Resource: A non-profit organization that assists with providing resources and support for addiction treatment and that educates the community about substance abuse disorder. Located in Fallston, MD. Please visit here or call 443-417-7810 for more information.

Ashley Addiction Treatment: An inpatient treatment center that personalizes clinical programs based on individual need. Located in Havre De Grace, MD. Please visit here or call 800-799-4673 for information about online and in-person meeting services.

Celebrate Recovery: A local support group for those with addictive behaviors. Located in Bel Air, MD and Joppa, MD.​

Mt. Zion Church (1643 Churchville Road, Bel Air, MD 21015): every Thursday at 5:45pm. Please visit here for more information about meetings.

Mountain Christian Church (New Life Center 1802 Mountain Road, Joppa, MD 21085): every Friday at 6:00pm. Please visit here for more details.

GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing): A local support group for those who have lost someone to addiction.

6:30pm on the 2nd Wednesday of each month.

Located in the Education Building at Mt. Zion Church: 1643 Churchville Road, Bel Air, MD 21015

Contact for more information. The private national Facebook group is available. Please visit here to ask to join.

The Klein Family Harford Crisis Center: A clinic that provides immediate care for mental health and addiction. Located in Bel Air, MD. Please visit here or call 410-874-0711 for information about services.

Loving An Addict: A local support group for family and friends of those in active addiction.

6:30pm every Tuesday.

Located in the Education Building at Mt. Zion Church: 1643 Churchville Road, Bel Air, MD 21015

Contact for more information.

Voices Of Hope: An organization made up of people in recovery who advocate for behavioral health disorder prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery resources, who eliminate the stigma of addiction through outreach events and education, and who support all pathways of recovery including harm reduction and Narcan training. Located in Cecil County, MD. Please visit here or call 443-933-7055 for information about services.

Daughter’s House: Designed to assist women who are transitioning from substance abuse treatment to recovery; includes three sober living houses (Daughter’s House, Sister House, and The Cottage) located in the suburbs of Harford County, MD. Click here to visit the Facebook page.

RAA ABC (After Baby Care): Provides post-partum care packages to new mothers in early recovery. Check out our program Gift List here.

HALO (How to Live Without Our Addicted Loved One): An online grief support group specifically for those that lost loved ones to substance abuse. Click here to ask to join the private Facebook page. *Please read and answer the membership questions prior to joining.*

Wendy Beck: Founder and Executive Director

Rachel Bongiorno: Recovery Coach and Daughter’s House Program Director

Mia EllisAdministrator, Newsletter Editor, and Secretary

Amanda Buddenbohn: President

Tara Kuzma: Treasurer

Abby Doge: Peer Support

Rich Bennett: Board Member

Meredith Morris: Board Member