Shelter organizer hears street's voices Newsletter offers practical advice BALTIMORE CITY

February 24, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

At 15, family problems drove Curtis Price from his home in Northwest Baltimore and into downtown flophouses and rooming houses, where he met addicts, prostitutes, ex-convicts and homeless men and women -- good people who were just "a little down on their luck," he said.

Today, more than 20 years later, Mr. Price still meets the same kind of people, but as coordinator of a 30-bed shelter for homeless men and of a newsletter aimed at the homeless and alcohol and drug abusers.

As coordinator, Mr. Price, 36, seeks to use his clients' knowledge of the streets to help others in similar situations find food, treatment for their addictions, and long- and short-term shelter.

"More than anybody else, they know how to help each other," he said.

With the exception of Mr. Price, most, if not all, of the staff at the Eutaw Center in the 700 block of N. Eutaw St. and the workers on the Street Voice newsletter are former addicts or homeless people.

"[Some] of the people who live at the shelter, work at the shelter," Mr. Price said. "The same thing for [the newsletter]. Many of the people on the corners work for the paper. It keeps them from being marginalized."

"Ninety-nine percent of the people we see are treated as problems to be solved," he said. "We see it differently and try to help them. They can give you valuable lessons in life."

A licensed practical nurse, Mr. Price has worked with various drug treatment programs and for HERO, a nonprofit organization that offers educational programs on AIDS prevention. He stopped working as an LPN at the end of 1991, when he began running the city-funded Eutaw Center in a building that was once a firehouse.

The yearly operating cost for the center is less than $60,000, from which Mr. Price takes a salary and pays stipends to the staff.

Unlike some shelters that are open only during the cold months, the Eutaw Center is open year-round.

Food for daily meals is donated by churches and private citizens.

"People can become homeless during the spring and the summer because that's when the last straw is broken in their situations and they have to leave [their homes]," Mr. Price said.

"It's easy to leave when it's warm, but they're still homeless when the winter comes."

One man who works at the shelter said he could not get work anywhere else.

"It's hard when you've stopped working because no one wants to let you get back into the work world again," said the 45-year-old man. "This ain't the job I'll have forever, but it's a way to start. It's doing something, which is better than doing nothing."

Two years ago, Mr. Price began Street Voice, before Eutaw Center opened, as a way to "approximate the street grapevine for passing along information" to the people who live on the streets.

"This is not a newspaper but a way to communicate with people," Mr. Price said. "This is not a glossy brochure. It just has news that people on the streets need to hear about."

Street Voice has a staff of about six people and a yearly operating budget of $15,000 to $20,000 that is provided by the state and AIDSWALK, a local fund-raising campaign for patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The free monthly publication has a circulation of about 8,000.

Mr. Price said that while Street Voice contains health-related articles that are pertinent to the homeless and those with chemical dependencies, those types of stories are not its main focus.

Street Voice talks about issues such as new soup kitchens, changes in operating hours of existing soup kitchens, job programs, drug treatment centers and how to avoid being attacked while on the streets.

"These people are faced with more immediate things than AIDS, like violence and where to stay," Mr. Price said. "They don't want to hear about a lot of the [other] things.

"It's like if you're on a battlefield, you're not worried about cigarettes and lung cancer down the road. You're more concerned about the bombs going off around you," he said.

Robert Thomas, 40, who was reared in East Baltimore, has worked with Mr. Price at the shelter and on the newsletter. He said he isn't homeless but has friends who are.

"It's easy for me to relate to the shelter because I see people I know like that," Mr. Thomas said.

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