Sarah’s House

  • Emergency shelter for indigent and impoverished families
  • 66 Emergency Shelter Rooms
  • Housed in five barracks type buildings donated by the U.S. Army
  • 22 Transitional Apartments

Site Description

Sarah’s House located in Ft. Meade, MD, is an organization that temporarily supports homeless families. It is a temporary shelter (safe harbor) for indigent and impoverished families until they can get back on their feet. In association with Catholic Charities, Sarah’s House is supported by donations from charitable organizations, the Army and some public funds.

Established in 1987, Sarah’s House was originally a U.S. army base. Five barracks type buildings were donated by the Army and are used to house and keep safe as many as 125 adults and children. The facility maintains 66 emergency shelter rooms and 22 transitional apartments.

The emergency shelter rooms have community facilities and are usually occupied from 12 to 16 weeks. After this period, if criteria for self-improvement are met, the family can apply for a transitional apartment. Transitional apartments are available for up to 24 months in which the families participate in sharing some of the costs. Through charitable donations the barracks have been redecorated to provide a cheery place for the families in transition.

Since its establishment, Sarah’s House has been successful in providing aid, counseling, and protection for literally thousands of families. It has seldom had less than capacity residency.

The Situation

As an emergency shelter, security is important. As a charitable institution, facility operation must be cost effective. All doors and access to the living quarters must be secured.

Because the shelter is temporary, living quarters are in a continual state of transition with families leaving and new families moving in. Under these conditions, door key management is a nightmare. Families lose keys or forget to turn them in. Also, keys can be copied.

The Keri Solution

In order to maintain security, the key management is important. Replacing and re-keying doors is an expensive proposition. A good compromise between cost and security had to be found. Research was undertaken to solve this problem. Chris Serbeck of Crest Lock Company was consulted. Keri Systems’ access control products were selected as the best choice to control access to the facility because of the relatively low system cost and because of its ease of operation.

The access control system consists of proximity readers controlling electronic locks on thirty-two facility doors. Proximity cards are used to allow authorized personnel and tenants access to the Dorms and other secured areas. The proximity card access technology not only provides high security, but operation and maintenance costs are very low.

Each proximity card is assigned a unique code that is practically impossible to decipher. Software, maintained at a central computer, allows the security administrator to assign a card to an individual. The card can then be programmed to operate certain doors at certain times. If the card is lost, it can be quickly and easily eliminated from the system, and replaced with another. Security is maintained without the need to re-key the locks—tremendous savings as compared to mechanical key management where doors must be re-keyed to maintain security.

Management is maintained at the central PC. Tracking and recording card usage is automatic. If necessary, custom reports of past card activity can be reviewed by the security administrator. Because there is no direct contact between the card and the reader, wear is not a function of usage. Maintenance costs are very low.

Using the card is also very convenient. Cards can be read without having to be removed from pockets or wallets. Tenants and employees who may have their hands full with items are offered an ease of usage that they would not experience with other card access technologies.

The cards are rugged and warranted for a lifetime under normal usage. They are available in a credit card shape or as small key fob.


The Sarah’s House personnel are very happy with the security system and the card access performance. It is a great compromise between cost and security. It is very easy to use and to maintain.