It used to break Muriel Moore's heart each day to turn away homeless women, often with children in tow, from the Baltimore Rescue Mission shelter in East Baltimore.
The shelter could only hold about 15 women and children, and had to turn down more than 700 requests for shelter last year.
Yesterday, Mrs. Moore, who runs the women's section of the shelter, helped preside over the opening of a significant new addition to the mission's stock of beds. The new, narrow four-story building in the 1200 block of East Baltimore Street will eventually sleep 80 to 90 women and children each night.
The opening of the new women's section is one more measure of hope for some of the city's most unfortunate residents, Mrs. Moore said. City officials estimate there are 2,400 homeless people in Baltimore.
In contrast to last year's acute shortage of beds for the homeless, the new shelter joins 315 emergency beds for the homeless already added by the city earlier this winter. They will be operated until March 31. With the new shelter, the city will
have a total of about 1,300 beds for the homeless.
When the new women's section is fully opened in the coming months, about 15 percent of the city's homeless population -- both men and women -- will be staying at the Baltimore Rescue Mission, which mixes shelter with born-again Christianity.
Charles Buettner, the center's executive director, told a crowd of more than 300 donors and well-wishers yesterday that 220 men and 15 women and children now sleep every night in the old building on North Central Avenue.
"This place is jammed every night of the week," he said.
The new building, which adjoins the original one at the Baltimore Street side, is in its own way a monument to hope. In November 1989, two years after the mission bought an old building on the same site, it collapsed on its crumbling foundation.
Businesses and individuals rallied to the mission's help. An architect donated plans for a new facility, an electrician wired the place free, and a contractor donated a new roof.
"Men have built great cathedrals," Mrs. Moore said. "But I don't think any of them have been more of a miracle than this one."
The new center won't open for business for another week or two, but some of its future residents were on hand to look at their new lodging.
"This is like heaven compared to the other place," said Diane, a 39-year-old Baltimorean, who moved into the shelter on Christmas Day. A student cosmetologist, she said she would be staying at the shelter until she got her life in order, "the Lord willing."
Surveying the rows of bunk beds with their colorful bedspreads and the homey-looking chests of drawers next to each, Mrs. Moore said, "We
tried to make this more cozy than the other shelter, not as uniform."
The women who stay range in age from 17 to 75, she said. They have the widest array of problems -- ranging from joblessness, to mental illnesses, to hungry children.
The shelter is strictly a night operation. Residents must be out of the shelter early in the morning, after an hour of Bible study. It reopens in the evening, in time for residents to take another -- and required -- full gospel Christian service.
Residents are allowed to stay a maximum of two weeks, while they look for another place to live.
But since the shelter is one of the few open year-round, Mrs. Moore expected to keep busy.
"I don't think we'll have any problem filling it," she said.