Slaying of man outside Basilica raises concerns about homeless Lack of shelters lamented

second killing is reported

September 15, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The homeless man stabbed under the portico at the Basilica of the Assumption Sunday morning has yet to be publicly identified by Baltimore police, but his death is raising concerns about how the city treats people who have no place to live.

Coming amid complaints from downtown business owners that a soup kitchen next to the national shrine on Cathedral Street encourages crime, the killing of the 42-year-old man has become a stark reminder of the complex debate ahead.

"It just really brings it home that we have a problem in this city with inadequate facilities for the homeless," said Robert Lancelotta Jr., executive director of the Basilica of the Assumption Historic Trust.

Lancelotta rushed to the Basilica -- the first cathedral in the United States when it was built in 1821 -- to find police examining a body at the top of the stairs and under the portico of the neo-classical style church.

"They say life is cheap. Well I saw it," said Lancelotta, who runs the day-to-day operation of the Basilica. "I've never seen anything like that in my life. He's laying there on a newspaper, and his shoes, tied, were next to him, along with his bag of belongings. And that was it."

Police reported another slaying of a homeless man yesterday in Southeast Baltimore. The man was shot about 5: 15 a.m. in the 4200 block of Eastern Ave. His name was withheld pending notification of relatives.

Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a department spokeswoman, said a man had tried to rob two homeless men, one of whom ran away to call police. "When he came back, his friend was dead," she said. Police said they had no suspects yesterday.

Little could be learned about the victim at the Basilica. Police withheld his name because they were trying to locate relatives. fTC Detective Kirk Hastings of the homicide unit said police had been to several shelters and could not find anyone who knew him.

People interviewed as they came and went from the adjacent soup kitchen, Our Daily Bread, didn't reveal much more. The only person who said he knew the man declined to comment. But many expressed concern.

"I heard about it and it makes you scared," said Joseph Wright, 40, who said he has been homeless for two years and routinely sleeps outside.

Police said the victim was one of several homeless people who bedded down for the night on the steps of the church. They have questioned five other people sleeping there, but said they are unsure whether there was a dispute leading to the stabbing.

"It didn't look like anything was taken at all," Hastings said. The victim, lying on a makeshift bed of newspapers and corrugated cardboard, had suffered a single laceration to the neck. Police said the stabbing occurred about 4: 30 a.m.

Fran Minakowski, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, which runs Our Daily Bread, said that without a name, she could not say whether the victim frequented the soup kitchen or used any other of the organization's 69 homeless services.

She said that the business owners, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library across the street, have been most concerned about minor thefts and loitering.

A committee studying plans to move Our Daily Bread is scheduled to report in November. One plan being studied is a homeless resources campus in East Baltimore that could include health care and job training.

"I would say that [the slaying] is an isolated incident," said Jimmy Rouse, president of the Charles Street Association who brought his concerns about Our Daily Bread to Cardinal William H. Keeler two years ago.

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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