Funding puts substation for police in jeopardy Volunteer says situation might force move from Hollins St. location

September 28, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Helen King's universe is a tiny storefront on Hollins Street from which she surveys the hard knocks of life in Southwest Baltimore.

From a city police substation at 1106 W. Hollins St., the 68-year-old volunteer gives out handfuls of food, watches out for bad guys, mediates neighborhood disputes, treats police like royalty, helps folks make their rent, and connects the needy to churches that have a little extra to give.

Just last week, King reached into her own closet to help a woman whose laundry was stolen off the line.

But for lack of $102 a month -- the approximate cost of maintaining a phone and keeping the lights turned on -- King's universe is about to collapse.

"I've got about seven or eight days left if I don't get no help," she said. "I even called Bea Gaddy and the police commissioner looking for grants."

If the 4-year-old substation, which exists on grants and private donations, cannot find funding, it will likely move into a cubicle at a community building around the corner on Carrollton Avenue.

That's better than nothing, says King, but she won't be right up in the action.

"I do a lot of things that's small, but it's worth my day," said the retired barmaid, who had a rough childhood in the Hollins Market neighborhood. "A lot of people aren't crazy about me because I'm opinionated, but I think God put me here to touch the people that other people look down on."

Substations -- private space donated by community groups or businesses such as convenience stores -- exist in each of the city's nine police districts. Officers on patrol use them to make phone calls, write reports, eat meals and meet neighbors who want to complain or pass on information.

The substations tend to be highly visible and add to a community's sense of security, even in a neighborhood like the Hollins Market area, where King and others say drug dealers have been so brazen as to engage in daytime gunfights on bicycles.

The beauty of the Hollins Street storefront, says King, is that the

regular beat officers have their own keys and can get in anytime they like. And, of course, on Hollins Street, King is the queen bee, and around the corner at the offices of Communities Organized to Improve Life, she'd be another worker in the hive.

Sarah Littlepage, the fourth generation to run a century-old family furniture store on West Baltimore Street, has kept the substation open with her own money more than once.

An officer in the Hollins Market Neighborhood Association, which has funded the substation, Littlepage said the group discussed at its last meeting moving the office to COIL, where the group would only have to pay for the phone.

"Miss King has devoted endless hours of her time and it would de- crease police visibility in our community to move," says Littlepage. "But we're basically out of ways of funding it."

Ward Smith, the head of COIL, said he was certain his board would approve the move.

South District Cmdr. Elmer Dennis -- of whom King has a picture with her on the substation wall, alongside public service citations from the City Council, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Police Department -- doesn't think the move would affect police work in the neighborhood.

"Miss King has a good heart. I love her to death," said Dennis, "but I think she's making a mountain out of a molehill."

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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