Ten Years of My Sister's Place

December 04, 1992

A decade ago, when homelessness -- especially among women -- was still a relatively new phenomenon in cities across the country, Associated Catholic Charities opened My Sister's Place on Mulberry Street. It was designed not as a traditional overnight shelter, but rather as a safe haven for women during the daytime hours -- a place to sit undisturbed in a comfortable chair, to take a shower, wash their clothes and feel like worthwhile people for a few hours. Today, the need for a service like My Sister's Place is more acute than ever.

The numbers -- more than 16,000 visits a year -- are disturbing, but so are the trends. In the early years, most women came alone. Now, more and more are showing up with children. Like other cities, Baltimore is seeing an increase in the number of homeless families, which means that scores of children are suffering from the dislocation, uncertainty, hunger and simple, gnawing fear that such a hand-to-mouth existence entails. In these circumstances, simply getting through the day is a victory, never mind the need to take care of any health problems or get to school. None of this bodes well for these young and needy lives -- or for the future of the community in which they live.

Counting the homeless is never easy, as shown by the city's quarrel with the federal government over the 1990 Census count. But according to the city's Homeless Relief Advisory Board, anywhere from 2,000 to 2,400 people are homeless on any given night in Baltimore. The city is thought to have about half of the state's homeless population.

In 1989, the most recent figures available, 80 percent of the homeless were single adults, while a fifth of those who sought help were in family units. About three-quarters of the homeless ,, were African Americans. Mental illness may account for as many as one-third of all cases of homelessness, while chemical dependency is another big factor.

But clearly the lack of affordable housing means that homelessness, especially among families, will continue to be a problem for years to come. How bad is the shortage? With a 10-year waiting list, someone who applied for public housing when My Sister's Place opened in 1982 would only now be getting an apartment.

My Sister's Place and many other notable charities have been doing heroic work for the homeless, day in and day out. Sadly, for the needs they are trying to meet, there seems to be no end in sight.

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