Travelers who pass through rail or bus terminals in major cities like New York and San Francisco cannot fail to be struck by the large number of homeless people who have taken shelter there -- a concentration of human misery that grew alarmingly during the past decade.
Baltimore, luckily, may get a jump on the problem before it reaches epidemic proportions. The federal Department of Transportation recently awarded the city a $600,000 grant to help it cope with the homeless influx around the busy Lexington and Howard street subway and bus stops. The money will be used to hire social workers to counsel homeless people who congregate there and help them re-establish stable lives.
As welcome as the grant is, the amount is small in relation to the needs of the estimated 2,000 people who are homeless on any given night in Baltimore city. Moreover, the funding will end after only three years -- though homelessness will continue.
Small-scale programs like the homeless grant are important in an era of declining municipal revenues and slashed state aid, but they can never replace a real federal commitment to substantial, long-term aid for the nation's cities. That is why Baltimoreans from all walks of life will be traveling to Washington, D.C. on Saturday to demand that national policy-makers pay attention to the city's needs.
The "Save our Cities March," inspired by former Rep. Parren Mitchell and supported by a coalition of local churches, civic groups, unions and community organizations, will see thousands of Baltimoreans converge on the nation's capital to protest the massive withdrawal of federal aid from the cities and will set the stage for a national Save Our Cities march on Washington next April under the sponsorship of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
That may be the most effective action citizens can take to keep Baltimore and cities like it from being transformed into domestic versions of Calcutta, India.