Cindy Williams, ED of Loving Arms, never planned to run a shelter for homeless and runaway youth. At a conference on Park Heights Revitalization in 2006 she heard a disturbing statistic: the most recent “Point In Time” count to calculate the number of homeless on any given day found more than 300 homeless and runaway youth inBaltimore. After watching a young man spread blankets on the street late one snowyJanuary night, she decided to act. With initial funding from Family and Youth ServicesBureau Ms. Williams and her husband, Darroll Cribb, started Loving Arms, the only emergency shelter that specifically serves runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 24 in the state of Maryland.
The house on Oakleigh Street is a warm and welcoming place with an open floor plan on the ground floor and four large bedrooms upstairs. The first floor living, dining, kitchen and computer areas provide ample teen “hang out” space. There also are a deck and large backyard. The two bedrooms on the second floor, with bath, are for girls and the two on the third, also with bath, are for boys. The typical occupancy is eight children,between 12 and 18, although cots can be added in an emergency situation and they will accept kids under 12 if they come with an older sibling. In some special circumstances they allow youth up to the age of 24. Money attached to federal grants require the youth to leave after 21 days, but other sources of funding can allow for longer stays and more flexibility.
Staff work hard to make Loving Arms feel like a genuine home, a place where children have their own spaces and can trust the adults around them. To help achieve this goal,there are only two beds to a room and each resident has their own dresser and closet(most arrive with clothes in trash bags or backpacks). All meals are served family style.Beds must be made and rooms cleaned before the kids leave for school each day. The kids are responsible for doing their laundry and other chores around the house. A tutor comes to the house Monday thru Thursday from 3:30 – 6:30 to help the children with their school work and the staff hold group meetings from 6:30 - 7:30, covering issues important to the residents, but also for fun and fellowship.
Youth find out about Loving Arms mostly by word of mouth from other youth and teachers. The Department of Social Services also refers children to Loving Arms and the staff hosts Open Houses so that professionals who work with homeless or runaway youth can see first hand what Loving Arms offers. Staff does outreach in areas where homeless and runaway youth gather, providing kits with water, toiletries and granola bars and they also provide referrals for other services. When youth arrive at LovingArms, staff policy is not to call the police. However, they always attempt to contact the families and let them know the child is safe. Reconciliation with family is the primary goal with runaway youth, though it may be with a family member other than apparent. If the entire family is homeless, transitional housing is sought, so the family can reunite. Loving Arms staff stays in contact with the youth for at least 90 days after they leave the home and will continue to be involved with the youth as long as they want. Ms. Williams is clear that youth can always come back and are welcome to do so.
Ms. Williams speaks of the joy, laughter and fun in the house. She watches young people transform during their stay at Loving Arms and is happy to know that she is helping to heal broken and hurt lives. She said, “There is something about giving that releases those endorphins and you can’t buy that!” Sadly, there are youth aging out of foster care every day to only find themselves homeless. At Loving Arms they believe that every child deserves a stable, loving home, in which to thrive.