Housing chief doesn't want working people ousted from projects

June 07, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Baltimore's housing chief Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday that if poor people work their way out of poverty, they shouldn't be required to leave the public housing that sheltered them during the hard climb up.

By including working-class success stories among residents of Baltimore's housing projects, the whole neighborhood would be enhanced, Mr. Henson said during a celebration of a new job training program at Murphy Homes on George Street in West Baltimore.

The federal policy that only allows the poor to live in public housing is "the dumbest thing I've ever seen," Mr. Henson said. "If all you have is poor people, then all you're going to have is people with poor attitudes. And if all the public housing is in the same place, it's very difficult for someone to pull themselves out.

"We want to show people that you can pull yourself up in your community without having to leave your community," he said.

Mr. Henson hopes the poverty requirement for public housing will be reversed by Henry Cisneros, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

One program aimed at helping people out of poverty is Signet Bank's recent donation of 30 IBM personal computers for developing new job skills for residents of Murphy Homes. MasterCare Services Inc. of Lutherville is committed to helping train the poor on those computers for jobs in the medical billing field.

Entry level jobs in medical billing, according to Samuel Little, an assistant to Mr. Henson, pay about $8 an hour.

"We expect the computers in 30 to 40 days," said Mr. Little. "Right now, we're looking for a secure place to install them so people have access to them but the computers won't walk away."

About 30 Murphy Homes residents -- those over 18 with a high school diploma or strong interest in earning one -- will get the first shot at being trained for those jobs.

The program is called "Back to Basics" and is the idea of the Rev. Althinia Hunt, an evangelical minister whose work at the Murphy Homes was celebrated yesterday under an aged gazebo of rusting iron and chipped wood at the corner of George Street and Myrtle Avenue.

"This kind of work is the churches' role," said Ms. Hunt, pastor of the Joshua Generation Church in West Baltimore. "The church should be helping spiritually and physically with every need."

Also on hand to applaud the work of Ms. Hunt and her partner, Vera C. Waters, were City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, state Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-39th, and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Before taking the podium, Mr. Schmoke took a stroll around the grounds at Murphy Homes -- picking up trash, greeting residents and stopping to criticize an intimidating new security system of bars and grates designed to keep intruders out of the high-rise.

He also echoed Mr. Henson's problems with housing regulations that put all poor people in one place.

"It's just packing poverty on top of poverty. In the old days people would fight you if you suggested they had to leave these neighborhoods," the mayor said. "If we had that flexibility to mix incomes, to mix adults and senior citizens, they would be more livable places."

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