Nichole Battle, GEDCO CEO

By J.K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

GEDCO is celebrating 30 years of service, Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

The Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) provides housing and support services to Baltimore’s older adults, adults with disabilities and those who have experienced homelessness.

The AFRO sat down with Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) Chief Executive Officer Nichole Battle, to discuss their past and present work and their future in a COVID-19 pandemic

The interview took place on a bleak afternoon of driving rain and flooded, washed out intersections, a reminder no one should have been living on the streets.

The talk took place a GEDCO’s development Stadium Place, site of the Green House Residences.

“The goal of Stadium Place was to create an intergenerational community with our partnership with the Y, but also to create a continuum of care retirement community that was affordable,” Ms. Battle told the AFRO. “As you get older, GEDCO’s mission, through all of our programs and our housing, our primary goal is to treat the people that we serve with dignity, and we were drawn to the Green House concept because of just that.”

GEDCO does not operate the Green House Residences. They developed and sold the property, keeping their focus on housing and servicing independent living.

“All of our housing is permanent,” Ms. Battle said. “What often happens is the people who join us, within our housing for people who are formerly homeless, they age with GEDCO, so they may have joined our program when they were in their 30s or their 40s, they may still be there.”

GEDCO does not offer transitional housing.

“Our founders believed that if you’re able to provide housing to an individual and help them achieve their goals and they reach those goals, the last thing we want them to have to worry about is ‘where am I going to live now that I’m no longer suffering with whatever affliction i was suffering with when I started here?’ Ms. Battle said.

It started with seven pastors led by founder Reverend Jack Sharp, seeking to keep congregants and their family members in affordable housing as they aged. GEDCO began rehabbing and developing properties in 1991, incorporated in 1992, and soon expanded their project.

“if you’ve ever been to York Road, there’s a million churches,” Ms. Battle said. “So, they were noticing that individuals and families were walking up and down York Road, hitting each church to get money for food, or money for their utilities, or money for rent, or just food so that they could feed their families.”

Pastors and partners came together to centralize collecting and giving into GEDCO CARES in 1993.

GEDCO reports “responding” to over 7,000 residents seeking help in the last year, April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

“That means, if someone needed food, we provided food; if they needed utility assistance, they didn’t want to get their utilities turned off, we helped them through the relationship with Fuel Fund . If they needed money so that they weren’t evicted, we helped; if they needed money for an ID, we helped; if they needed money for maybe a birth certificate, we helped that way. That’s what we do through GEDCO CARES.”

Through Micah House, GECOD is housing 59 people who have experienced homelessness. 26 men and 33 women.

Baltimore’s 2020 Point-in-Time Count counted 2,193 homeless Baltimoreans. 6,360 were counted across Maryland by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Maryland is the richest state by median household income.

“There are many factors that really contribute to homelessness, or people being homeless,” Ms. Battle said. “One is, for lack of a better term: s*** happens. People may go through a bad time in their lives, they may lose their job, there may be a divorce, there may be some sort of addiction, where they were doing well, and then something happens. There’s a hiccup, and then you’re homeless.”

As Maryland’s richness and wealth increases, housing is getting further and further out of reach for Baltimore and Maryland’s poorest residents.

“Housing is not affordable,” Ms. Battle said. “In Maryland it’s probably the highest. We have the highest rents, the housing values, Maryland’s not the most affordable place to live. And so, if you have someone who has a minimum wage job, they’re not going to be able to pay for housing, utilities, insurance, if they need a car to get to work, or transportation, that food and medical is not feasible.”

The median rent in Maryland is $1,401 and climbing. Maryland’s untipped minimum wage is $11.60, the tip-earning minimum wage is $3.63.

“So, affordability is really a factor, and what we do as an organization is we focus on the housing that we develop, we’re focusing it on the affordability for the people that we serve.” Ms. Battle said.

Residents all pay rent, but no more than 40 percent of their income. GEDCO beats the market rent by building developments unencumbered by debt.

What does GEDCO, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit need to keep operating? Volunteers, donations, food?

“All. Of. The. Above,” Ms. Battle said. “We love volunteers, we have a great volunteer board. Our GEDCO CARES program, 80 percent of the staffing or support we get is volunteers. Donations are welcome. We get donations of food, donations of cleaning supplies, especially during COVID, donations of masks, donations of furniture for our individuals who are living in our units, may not have furniture, we get those, that’s great.”

GEDCO will be celebrating it’s last 30 years in a Thanksgiving Tribute at the B&O Museum, Thursday. Attendant can attend the space physically or virtually.

The festivities’ Master of Ceremonies will be Jason Newton of WBAL-TV.

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