. . . the numbers just keep growing In Baltimore, in January, more than 9,000 people will be removed from the welfare roles. There is no way anyone can predict the outcome of this action.

October 28, 1998|By Esther R. Reaves

THE controversy over the proposed relocation of Our Daily Bread soup kitchen misses the point. Instead, we should be focusing on the fact that so many people in Baltimore are dependent on soup kitchens.

The numbers of people who are being cared for by nonprofit agencies have grown steadily in recent years. For instance, when Our Daily Bread was founded in 1981, 125 people were fed there each day; today, 900 people eat there daily.

In 1989, when the soup kitchen I supervise opened at its present location, we were providing meals to 80 men daily; we rarely saw a woman in the crowd. We now provide breakfast to as many as 250 people daily, and about 20 percent of our clients are female.

Over the past three months, demand for our services increased by about 20 more meals per day than were served during the same period a year ago.

Mary's story

Many of our clients are mentally ill. For example, there's Mary, who sleeps on our parking lot during the day.

Out of concern for her welfare, we have called three agencies that deal with adults. In turn, workers have come to the soup kitchen to interview Mary, who is able to tell them the date, her name and meet other criteria they use for determining her ability to remain outside an institution. Then Mary tells them to leave her alone, and they do.

Our soup kitchen remains a sort of home for her. We feed her, give her clothes and she bathes in our bathroom. But how are we to protect her from bodily harm at night and from freezing when the weather turns cold?

But not all of our clients are single like Mary. The number of families we serve is steadily increasing.

Family problems

For years, I have been talking about the effect homelessness and poverty are having on Baltimore's children. How can children who are in and out of shelters and soup kitchens develop as they should?

In Baltimore, in January, more than 9,000 people will be removed from the welfare roles. There is no way anyone can predict the outcome of this action. However, one can assume that some percentage of that 9,000 will end up on the streets, and many more will be eating in soup kitchens.

Government can remove people from welfare. City planning and big business can dictate where soup kitchens should be located. But pushing the homeless out of the downtown business district doesn't get rid of the problem.

We -- the nonprofit agencies -- will continue to be the last resort for thousands of people.

Esther R. Reaves is executive director of MANNA House, 435 E. 25th St.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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