Our Daily Bread to move east

City soup kitchen a source of friction, also due to expand

April 28, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, long criticized for drawing aggressive panhandlers and loiterers to downtown, will move to East Baltimore under a $10 million expansion plan announced yesterday by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The announcement comes after nine months of debate between downtown business leaders and advocates for the city poor who wrestled over where the swelling Cathedral Street kitchen, which feeds up to 900 people a day, should be located.

Under the new plan, Our Daily Bread will move to a vacant building at 400 E. Preston St., along the Jones Falls Expressway and incorporate the Christopher Place Employment Academy, now at 709 E. Eager St.

The old Our Daily Bread site will continue to provide services to the poor while being occupied by My Sister's Place, a women and children's daytime shelter at 123 W. Mulberry St. that handles about 65 people.

Cardinal William H. Keeler called the plan an opportunity for the archdiocese to improve meeting the needs of the city's hungry and homeless.

"It will help us to move further in our service to the poor of this community," he said.

The moves will take about two years to complete if government approvals and raising money to pay for the changes go smoothly, Keeler said.

Last summer, downtown business leaders, led by billionaire Baltimore Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos, suggested moving the soup kitchen out of the way of redevelopment efforts along Charles Street.

Increasing complaints about aggressive panhandling, loitering and car break-ins that downtown business owners and library patrons associated with the facility prompted the request.

In response, Keeler formed an 11-member task force led by George Collins, a retired T. Rowe Price chief executive officer, to explore the situation.

The panel's recommendations, approved Monday by the board of Associated Catholic Charities Inc., came after 10 meetings and presentations by 40 groups with interest in the outcome, Collins said.

Advocates for the poor have protested any move, criticizing downtown business leaders as wanting to sweep the city's poor under the rug by moving them into an adjacent poor neighborhood.

Social service advocates yesterday did not criticize a plan that will expand the soup kitchen's services. But they called the agreement a symbolic loss for the city's poor.

"Our Daily Bread made a statement," said Ralph Moore, vice president of the Center for Poverty Solutions, of the soup kitchen's current location next to the Basilica of the Assumption in the heart of downtown. "Now that statement will be lost."

Brendan Walsh, who operates the Viva House soup kitchen in West Baltimore, called the plan a "hypocrisy" of the Christian values of helping the poor. "It's out of the way for folks in West Baltimore," Walsh said. "And a lot of folks depend on that."

More services needed

Yet the cardinal and fellow archdiocesan officials called the compromise a win for all sides. Church leaders stood firm on their stance that they would not move the operation unless it came with an offer from the business community to provide more services.

The new Preston Street site was purchased by Angelos for an undisclosed amount and donated to the archdiocese, Catholic Charities leaders said.

To pay for the move, the archdiocese will contribute $5 million to an endowment and solicit donations for the remaining $5 million. The estimated $500,000 in annual proceeds from the fund will help pay for the operating costs, Keeler said.

Job training added

The key component of the move will be adding job training to Our Daily Bread. One of the largest complaints about the soup kitchen was that it offered no help for people to become more independent.

Under the plan, the Christopher Place residential job training center for men will be able to double its capacity to 70 trainees. The old Eager Street facility could be used to create a new Catholic Charities Employment Center to house 30 men in temporary work.

"We give the fish with one [hand]," Keeler said of the new facility. "And we teach people how to fish with the other."

Keeler and advocates for the poor also hope that the agreement will lead to further cooperation among city, business and social service leaders about addressing the needs of Baltimore's poor.

70% of region's poverty

The city is home to 70 percent of the metropolitan region's poor. In addition to a 9 percent unemployment rate -- double the national average -- the city Health Department estimates that one of every eight Baltimore adults is a drug addict.

During testimony from various groups, the committee compiled a map of social services throughout the city, coloring various sites depending on whether they were soup kitchens, drug rehabilitation services, shelters or food pantries.

When completed, the map became a rainbow of over 200 facilities all within three miles of downtown that provide similar services to the poor.

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