Steam over a soup kitchen Our Daily Bread: Collins' committee hopes to bridge groups that may have moved farther apart.

November 25, 1998

CARDINAL William H. Keeler chose the right person, many agree, when he asked George Collins, former CEO of T. Rowe Price, to head a committee to examine the future of Our Daily Bread. As the Collins group wraps up its look at the Catholic Charities soup kitchen, however, members must feel like bridge builders who fasten the last rivet only to realize that the shores have moved farther apart.

On one side are representatives of the business community, who may feel even more urgency to relocate Our Daily Bread since Johns Hopkins University's announcement that it will enhance its downtown campus. That news fortifies plans by Orioles principal owner Peter G. Angelos to rebuild the Charles Center area, as well as those to revive Charles Plaza as an "urban entertainment center."

Also concerned about Our Daily Bread are advocates for the homeless, who now appear less willing to entertain the alternative of a "full-service" center for the homeless away from downtown. The Center for Poverty Solutions, a nonprofit agency, concluded that such facilities don't work after its tour of cities that have them. Among conditions that soured the group: a tent city in Orlando that housed the poor in "human parking spaces."

There is reason to conclude that a soup kitchen doesn't address the root cause of hunger.

At the same time, concerns about Our Daily Bread's impact on center-city commerce or on the neighboring Enoch Pratt central library remain well-founded although they may sound callous to some.

Downtown simply can't absorb an army venturing daily to a soup kitchen for lunch and hanging around afterward. The American Civil Liberties Union and social-service providers raised similar concerns about concentrations of poverty in recent years in their push to dynamite Baltimore's high-rise public housing units. Both cases acknowledge that the more concentrated the poverty, the worse its dysfunctions.

Cleveland has been in a row lately over a priest who barricaded his downtown church, fed up by the empty liquor bottles and human excrement regularly left outside. In Baltimore, at least, the church is in the role of facilitator -- although that role may prove more difficult soon.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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