Rec centers struggle with no money Public housing recreation centers receiving few supplies from city. FUN ON A SHOESTRING

June 10, 1991|By Elisha King | Elisha King,Evening Sun Staff

Inside the Claremont Public Housing Recreation Center, a few young boys toss a soccer ball into a plastic milk crate tied on a wall. It's the closest they can come to playing basketball, since the court outside has a broken backboard, and the boys don't have a basketball anyway.

Other children color on the back of construction paper that has already been used once or twice. A young girl says she wants new pink paper for her "best picture of all," but there is no new paper for her to use.

At Claremont, there is hardly anything new. Nor is there enough of what is available. Each afternoon, more than 40 children come to the center for recreational activities, but since last year, the city has stopped paying most of the center's expenses.

The Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks, which used to provide art supplies and sports equipment, now provides nothing to Claremont, or to many other recreation centers in public housing developments.

Department of Recreation and Parks officials say they stopped managing public housing recreation centers after the Baltimore Housing Authority took control of them.

"How are we supposed to fight drugs when we don't give the kids something to do?" said Anna Warren, who now runs the center for the Claremont Tenant Council.

"These kids see a drug dealer up on the corner and they think he's king of the hill. We tell them that they're special without the drugs, and we try to give them something fun to do. But you can't close a recreation center and say no to drugs."

Claremont residents say they are frustrated by the city bureaucracy. They say they have called city officials many times, leaving messages that are never returned.

But Bob Wade, superintendent of recreation, said the residents of Claremont need only to call him for help. Wade said he tried to call one Claremont volunteer to discuss the matter, but has so far been unable to reach him.

"We are more than willing to assist Claremont with equipment," said Wade, the former University of Maryland basketball coach. "If we have any additional equipment and we can give it to the people in Claremont, we'll be more than willing to do so."

When budget cuts forced Recreation and Parks to close the center in northeast Baltimore last June, community volunteers asked the housing authority if they could reopen the center. Claremont residents said they would provide volunteer staff and hoped that the city would still provide the building and equipment.

The Claremont Tenant Council got permission to reopen the center, and the building was provided free by the housing pTC authority. But when volunteers reopened the building last year, it was almost empty. Not only did they have to come up with staff members, they also had to scrape together money to buy recreation equipment to keep the kids busy.

"We've got 40 to 60 kids here every day after school gets out, and we're going to have at least double that during the summer," said Terry Warfield, a volunteer. "We've got to have something for them to do. We have a bunch of coaches and volunteers, but no balls or bats or anything like that."

Outside the center lies a softball field with overgrown grass and a tennis court with grass sprouting up through the pavement. The city Housing Authority has promised to repair the softball field, but that won't be much help until the center can raise some money to buy balls, bats and mitts.

The center also does not have a telephone, which could be a dangerous situation in case of an emergency.

"I think my kids are good, I'm proud of them, and I want to see them become somebody," said Warren, who volunteers four afternoons every week. "But I'm afraid to see what will happen if they're back out on the streets."

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