St. Jude's gives homeless something to cheer - and sing - about Housing, other aid provided by group

December 02, 1991|By John W. Frece

Mary Harvey was so happy not to be homeless that she sang a song about it yesterday morning.

"Where do you go when there's no place to go to, no place to stay?" the Baltimore mother of two sang at a breakfast at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The event was intended to encourage formerly homeless folks such as herself to maintain hope that they never again will have to spend the night on park benches or city streets.

"How do you make it, when you have no food, no friends?" Ms. Harvey, a former music teacher, sang, recalling the three months last summer that she and her teen-age sons spent living in rental cars or on Harborplace benches, scraping for anything they could get to eat.

"Tell me, who do you turn to? I want to know."

The answer to her questions was an organization called the St. Jude's Treasury Inc., a non-denominational, non-profit operation run by employees of the Relocation Section of Baltimore's housing department.

Using corporate and individual contributions, as well as donations of furniture and other items, St. Jude's attempts to fill the gap between the benefits available to the homeless through federal and state social services programs -- and the financial realities of getting a homeless family back on its feet.

Sometimes the help involves nothing more than providing the bus fare so someone can get to a house or apartment that is available for rent, paying a utility bill, or providing a truck in which to move personal belongings, said Al Thumel, head of the Relocation Section and founder of St. Jude's.

"Who do you turn to?"

Sheri Jenkins, 18, nine months' pregnant and living at a shelter run by the YWCA, turned to St. Jude's for help in finding a home for herself and her 14-year-old identical twin sisters, Dawna and Dawn Arnold. Her mother, whom housing officials described as a drug abuser, was "incapable of raising the twins," she said, and said her father had fled to California.

Debbie Allen, a city housing employee, said she is helping Ms. Jenkins and her sisters find housing. The staff from the Baltimore advertising firm of Trahan Burden & Charles also has contributed enough used furniture to make Ms. Jenkins' new home livable -- furniture the jobless young woman cannot afford on her own.

Mr. Thumel said St. Jude's helped 6,875 Marylanders find or furnish homes during the past year. The organization staged yesterday's breakfast to commemorate its second year of operation, but only about 100 of the 400 who were invited attended.

The low turnout was attributed to the rainy weather, but Mr. Thumel, blaming the recession, said: "I'll admit, this year has been the most difficult year we've ever had in raising funds."

He said St. Jude's was trying to raise about $3,000 to buy toys for more than 200 homeless children this Christmas. But he said: "I'm afraid this year might be a bit disappointing."

"Can you tell me, who do you turn to? You can turn to Him."

Ms. Harvey, 38, said she lost her job after receiving a spinal injury, then moved out of her home the day before she was to be evicted in July 1990. She said she and her sons, Jenard and Tyrone, now 18 and 13, respectively, spent the summer in rented cars, bus stops and on the benches at Harborplace.

"It doesn't take a person [to be] on drugs or alcohol to get there," she said of being homeless. "I have a master's degree and I worked, but it didn't stop me from not having a place to stay."

Had it not been for St. Jude's, she said, "I'd probably still be living in the street."

In an unrelated event involving the city's homeless, Our Daily Bread, the soup kitchen run by Associated Catholic Charities, moved yesterday into newly renovated, larger quarters next door to its original 17 W. Franklin St. storefront.

The old facility was capable of serving 40 people at a time; the new one can seat 100, plus provide a waiting area out of the cold.

When Our Daily Bread was opened in 1981, it served an average of 100 people a day. It moved last year to a temporary site at 200 W. Franklin St., where it has served an average of 650 meals a day.

This year, the number of meals served per day reached an all-time high of 900.

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