2 vacant buildings could soon house program to help homeless veterans

October 07, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

5/8 TC The plain brick orphanage and cup factory on High Street stand dormant now. But the old landmarks of East Baltimore's industrial days could soon become a modern center for homeless veterans.

Maryland veterans associations want to refurbish the vacant buildings at 301-321 N. High St. and open a program to help homeless veterans get back on their feet.

Many of the men who fought in the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, Korea and World War II are facing a daily battle to survive on city streets. One of every three homeless men in the country is a veteran, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

"This home is to get veterans off the streets and get them off of drugs and alcohol," said Blair E. Cross, chairman of the Maryland Homeless Veterans Inc. "The easiest person to rehabilitate is a veteran. He can accept discipline, and he can do what he needs to do."

Homeless veterans who checked in to the 100,000-square-foot center would be given more than a bed and a hot meal. They would receive job counseling, drug and alcohol treatment and psychiatric help. They also would be required to live by strict rules -- getting up at 5 each morning and following a regimen of cooking, cleaning, working, studying and exercising.

The program, patterned after a highly successful homeless shelter founded by a group of Vietnam veterans in Boston, could begin within months once approved.

Advocates for the homeless, including the Mayor's Office of Homeless Services, support it. But some merchants fear it would saddle a declining business district with more addicts and homeless people.

Business owners at Old Town Mall argued at a hearing before the city's Planning Commission two weeks ago that the project could fail. The commission is expected to vote this afternoon on whether to recommend the proposal. It also must be approved by the City Council.

"We're already overloaded with a number of homeless centers and a methadone treatment center just a few blocks away," said Seymour Farbman, president of the Old Town Mall Merchants Association. "People don't like walking through the mall right now. We feel this is just going to make things worse."

Lou Goldstein, owner of Goldstein's Style Shop in the pedestrian mall, emphasized that merchants aren't opposed to the project itself.

"Our concern is what happens if it doesn't pan out," he said.

Mr. Cross has tried to reassure the merchants that the program has built-in safeguards, especially because it would be a self-contained complex run with military discipline.

He also has invited business and neighborhood representatives to join the board of directors.

If the group gets the green light, the doors will be opened immediately to 10 to 15 veterans who will move into the first and fifth floors of the old Sweetheart Cup building.

The veterans association, which has lined up $2.8 million in grants, would hire the veterans to refurbish the rest of the building and the gutted orphanage down the street. A small structure connecting the two would be converted into a dining room and restaurant.

Even though Baltimore has a number of homeless shelters, veterans could be better served through a long-term program that offers counseling and job training, advocates said. The Boston program has turned 2,500 homeless veterans into tax-paying citizens, Mr. Cross said.

The Mayor's Office of Homeless Services estimates that 20 percent of the homeless people in Baltimore are veterans.

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