A neighbor describes the frustrations of living next to Our Daily Bread

June 08, 1998|By Diana McLaughlin

THE OLD adage suggesting you never truly know how someone else feels until you have walked in his shoes came to mind for me as I read of the controversy surrounding Our Daily Bread.

I would like to invite anyone who has formed an opinion without visiting the neighborhood Our Daily Bread calls home to spend a day with me. You may be surprised, and perhaps dismayed, at what you will see.

I have been a resident of the Westminster House for senior citizens for the past 15 years, which means I have always lived around the corner from Our Daily Bread. Over time, I have seen the size of the crowd waiting to be served a meal become larger and increasingly restless.

I have become weary of seeing some patrons stop harassing passers-by only long enough to eat. As president of my building's residents' association, I am saddened that I must remind my neighbors, all of whom are seniors, not to carry valuables or purses when leaving or returning home.

I am also a volunteer at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. During the three years I have volunteered there, I have lost count of how many times on a given day I must ask those who have just had their meal at Our Daily Bread not to sleep on the library's tables. Our patronage is down, while maintenance and security costs have risen dramatically.

I am angered that my neighbors in Westminster House refuse to patronize the treasure chest that is the Pratt. Many of these lonely folks could avail themselves of the companionship and entertainment that could be found just two blocks from their home. But because they are afraid to run the gantlet that awaits them outside the library's doors.

Having also worked at New Directions for Women for many nTC years, I am skilled at recognizing the signs of someone who needs substance abuse treatment or mental health care. Many of the patrons of Our Daily Bread exhibit these signs. It frustrates me to see the need that exists for all these other services, which are not being provided in a convenient way.

It disgusts me to see drunken men relieve themselves on the sidewalk and addicted ones leave their syringes on the street. If these kinds of behaviors were taking place outside a bar near a church or other residential area, I am sure the community would be more receptive to hearing about the problem and would take swift and decisive action to remedy it.

I am also resentful that I, and others who express the same concerns, would be labeled insensitive or accused of wanting to "put a gate around the city," with the poor hidden from sight. I consider myself liberal in my political and social beliefs, and I feel strongly that places such as Our Daily Bread are well-intentioned and that they perform a service that is, unfortunately, necessary.

I am disturbed that the real problems at hand would be obscured by those who want to divert attention from the fact that many programs, such as the one operated by Associated Catholic Charities at Our Daily Bread or any other soup kitchen, barely scratch the surface of their population's needs. We have not done a good job of providing all of the services these people must have in a way that works for them.

Instead, we send the poor from building to building, from one side of town to the other, to get social services here, job training there. If it is difficult for them to get there, they understandably do not go at all. And they are back in line at Our Daily Bread the very next day.

This is not a "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) argument. I am certain that, after you have spent some time in my shoes, you would say that the behavior of some of Our Daily Bread's patrons should not be tolerated in anyone's back yard.

My neighborhood and my library have always welcomed those who treat us and each other with dignity and respect. I welcome any organization or person who honors that covenant.

Diana McLaughlin is a volunteer at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Pub Date: 6/08/98

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