Clinton receives warm welcome Federal aid for the needy lauded during his visit

December 24, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Two blocks south of where President Clinton spoke yesterday, a line of poor and hungry East Baltimore residents stood outside the Helping Up Mission in bone-chilling weather waiting for food.

As a bread truck arrived delivering rolls, the dozen people standing on East Watson Street agreed that despite being down and out and depending on handouts, they're much better off with Clinton than without. "He means a lot to us," said Sharnita Brooks, 26, of East Baltimore.

Clinton's warm reception in Baltimore stems from the aid the city receives from U.S. programs. He was in town to announce $17 million for homeless programs in Maryland. The federal government pays about 25 percent of the city's $1.8 billion budget. Next year, Baltimore's homeless services budget will PTC rise to $24.5 million, a $9.2 million increase over 1998 funding, according to the city's adopted budget.

The federal government pays 83 percent of the Baltimore homeless services tab, aiding an estimated 3,500 homeless in the city. Dozens of homeless gather at City Hall Plaza for meals every night. In his speech to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland, Clinton said $8 million of the city homeless money will be from competitive grants, up $1 million from last year.

The increase will be used to address the needs of 1,200 people who are members of homeless families and to send homeless city children to summer camp. "It's a little bump up for us," said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, whose department handles homeless services. "Any day I get money is good."

Clinton gave his speech near Pleasant View Gardens, a community built with federal funds to replace the Lafayette Courts high-rise housing project. The 21.5 acres of mixed-income housing is part of a five-year, $293 million federally funded effort to knock down the city's four notorious public housing complexes and replace them with low-rise communities

occupied by more middle-income residents. Two projects have been demolished, with two more scheduled to be wrecked over the next two years.

Christa Spangler, a German native who lives in Baltimore, introduced the president. In the winter of 1994, the mother of three was homeless, living in her car. She found her way to Marion House, a Catholic transitional housing program for homeless women and children.

Spangler is now married, working as a receptionist and living in her own home. Funds from the federal government pay 25 percent of the Marion House annual budget.

"I used to drive my car to bad neighborhoods hoping somebody would kill me," Spangler told the president. "I'm alive because of homeless programs your administration funded."

Pub Date: 12/24/98

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