The homeless man had a minor legal problem and a serious drinking problem. Staff at the Homeless Persons Representation Project tried to direct him to a clinic for the homeless, hoping he would walk the six blocks to find out about a detoxification program. Instead, he just left.
For Baltimore's homeless population, estimated at 2,600 on any given night, finding the help they need can involve an overwhelming obstacle course through city streets, as they trudge from agency to agency, in between the searches for shelter and food. Easily discouraged, they sometimes just give up.
But at The Center on Park Avenue, a former Equitable Trust branch, three non-profit agencies serving the homeless are now under the same roof: the Representation Project, which provides free legal aid; Health Care for the Homeless; and People Aiding the Homeless (PATH), which offers emergency assistance and job training.
This week, The Center will celebrate its official opening with the state and city officials who helped to make it possible. The state authorized a $600,000 bond for the $1.6 million project, allowing the clinic and PATH to purchase the building.
The consolidation of services puts Baltimore in the vanguard of homeless services nationwide. But Norma Pinette of Action for the Homeless said that while the umbrella operation is a good start, the city still lacks a centralized system that could monitor the availability of shelter beds, for example, or reduce the number of social workers a homeless person must see.
"There still isn't that one number to call to get you somewhere," Ms. Pinette said. "It's nice that it's under one roof, but it's as much for cost-efficiency as it is for the homeless person."
The Baltimore facility is housed in a simple, no-frills building with fresh paint, industrial carpet and a few unusual "art objects" -- vault doors and etched panes of glass.
Clients have quickly found their way to the new location, up and running since April. Homeless men and women filed in and out one morning last week.
William Brown, 33, had come for an eye exam. Although he frequently uses the clinic, he also relies on PATH's crisis services. Trying to visit both in one day oncemeant a walk of more than two miles, from the clinic on Liberty Street to PATH's offices on 26th Street.
"It's a lot more convenient since they are combined," he said. "It's a whole lot better."
Mr. Brown said the simplest tasks can seem impossible to the homeless. "People have a tendency to give up on you," he said. "Then you give up on yourself."