Hyatt cooks up meal for homeless

February 16, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

More than 1,000 homeless men, women and children streamed into the Hyatt Regency yesterday, drawn by a meal in a lush setting, with no limits on second helpings and no rules about moving on as soon as they were finished eating.

It was the occasion of the Hyatt's fifth annual Valentine to Baltimore's homeless, who were served a Thanksgiving-style meal in a ballroom.

"Everyone can stay as long as they want," said Seamus Fogarty, a Hyatt waiter who was filling in as the maitre d' for the luncheon. "But nobody should have to be here. So many people have nothing. So few people have everything."

It was the largest turnout ever, according to the Hyatt staff, twice what was expected.

The hotel ran out of some items before the last diner was served, but fell back on leftovers from Sunday brunch so no one would go away hungry.

Although the turkey dinner is scheduled to coincide with Valentine's Day, it fell on Presidents' Day this year, a boon for homeless parents with school-age children. Holidays mean the parents have to find a midday meal for their children, who normally get a free, hot meal at school.

Scarlett Billingsley, who has four children, and Linda Wilson, the mother of 6-year-old Robert Simpson III, had started the day at the St. Mark's Lutheran Church shelter, their home of three months. It took them more than an hour to walk from the 1900 block of St. Paul St. to the Hyatt on Light Street near the Inner Harbor.

"They have all these functions -- Thanksgiving, Christmas -- and it's nice, you know," said Ms. Wilson, forced into a shelter when her son's father lost his job. "But they never have anyone to talk to you about the situation that forced you to be here in the first place. Where's the mayor's office? Where's the housing department?"

Her son's father, Robert Simpson Jr., has found a new job, Ms. Wilson said, but remains in a men's shelter, trying to save enough money for an apartment.

They see each other for only a few minutes each day, meeting outside St. Mark's when Mr. Simpson gets off work.

In April, St. Mark's will close, and Ms. Wilson isn't sure where she will end up.

"The people who are in power don't care about the homeless. In the summertime, when it's warm, they'll forget about the homeless," Ms. Wilson said bitterly. "They only care when it's cold because they don't want people freezing to death on the streets."

This year's luncheon attracted more women and children than ever, but single men still predominated. While there are increasing numbers of women and children in shelters, the homeless population in Baltimore is still overwhelmingly male.

Many homeless people heard about the lunch by word of mouth, or at places such as Health Care for the Homeless.

Tickets were passed out before hand, to give the Hyatt an idea of how many people to expect, but no one needed a ticket to get in.

One diner, Hubert Dickerson, looked around the Constellation Ballroom with appreciative eyes. Decoration was minimal and somewhat inexplicable -- a windmill on one table, a model of the Eiffel Tower on another -- but Mr. Dickerson thought it was lovely.

"We were treated like people, with utmost respect," he said. "You know, this is probably the only opportunity I would have to come to the Hyatt Regency."

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