Soup kitchen will remain downtown up to 3 years

Our Daily Bread stays as `campus' site sought

January 22, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Our Daily Bread's soup kitchen will remain at its downtown location for up to three years while Baltimore develops a homeless "campus" in another section of the city, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.

The future of the Cathedral Street soup kitchen that feeds up to 900 people a day has been unresolved since May when business leaders suggested moving it.

Complaints about car break-ins, aggressive panhandling and library loitering combined with Charles Street redevelopment efforts caused business leaders to offer to build a more comprehensive center for the poor elsewhere in the city.

Schmoke made his announcement based on a meeting with Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which operates the facility. Although Keeler declined to comment, Schmoke said the Roman Catholic Church leader appeared firm in his decision not to move the soup kitchen.

"The archdiocese decision-making on Our Daily Bread is on a different timetable than ours," Schmoke said. "I expressed to the cardinal that there would be some disappointment with business leaders and trustees of the Pratt library."

Downtown business leaders did express frustration over the news yesterday, while advocates for the poor rejoiced. The issue has sparked extensive debate over downtown development interests and efforts to help the poor.

Jeff Singer, who operates Health Care for the Homeless at 111 N. Park Ave., called the announcement a "victory."

"We've been trying to make the point that economic development and the poor do not have to be at odds," said Singer, whose center is targeted for condemnation as part of a redevelopment plan for downtown's west side. "Maybe, with some individuals, the message is getting through."

Downtown Partnership leaders who had pushed for the move said yesterday the archdiocese might be missing an opportunity to enhance services for the poor beyond a daily feeding.

"It's extremely disappointing," Laurie Schwartz, partnership president, said of Schmoke's announcement. "We firmly believe that the status quo is not of any benefit to those standing in line or the community."

Our Daily Bread is one of Baltimore's busiest and most visible soup kitchens. Pope John Paul II dined there with the poor and others in October 1995.

Controversy has surrounded the operation since its founding in 1981 in a storefront at 17 W. Franklin St., where it was designed to feed about 125 people a day.

In late 1991, Our Daily Bread moved into a $1.1 million brick building at Cathedral and Franklin streets, next to the Basilica of the Assumption. The building was constructed in cooperation with the Downtown Partnership, which agreed to help expand Our Daily Bread in conjunction with building an adjacent 350-car parking garage.

Last year, the archdiocese formed a task force to explore options for the soup kitchen. The recommendations were expected by the end of the month, but the report likely will be delayed until spring, Schmoke said.

Fran Minakowski, an archdiocese spokeswoman, said the formal announcement on Our Daily Bread's future will be made after the recommendations are received. "Until that takes place, we're really not going to say more," Minakowski said.

Schmoke announced that the city would begin looking for a site to create its first day resource center for the homeless. Cities elsewhere have coordinated medical, job training, food services and sometimes housing on one site or "campus."

Schmoke said he prefers a former city school, now vacant, across the street from Green Mount Cemetery.

His dual announcement pleased advocates for the poor.

"We're very pleased to hear Our Daily Bread will remain at its present location because it obviously serves a tremendous public purpose," said Rob Hess, president of the Center for Poverty Solutions in Baltimore. "We're glad to see that the day resource center may suggest a more thoughtful and inclusive process."

Loren Biddle, a security officer at Pratt library, said the homeless usually enter after eating lunch to use the restrooms or nap.

"You do have guys that come in and read," he said, "and then you have the obvious ones that just come in to sleep."

Tammy Dorsey, 31, a mother of two and a recovering drug addict, was happy with the decision. She stood outside the soup kitchen with her children.

Dorsey reached into her bag for a box of sweets the kitchen gave the children. "I have dinner to feed my children, but sometimes I just don't have lunch," she said. "This place is needed."

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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