Soup kitchen's plans for move challenged

Brentwood Village residents meet to map strategy, express anger

May 15, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

An East Baltimore neighborhood group is challenging plans to move Our Daily Bread from downtown, believing that the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Associated Catholic Charities Inc. are trying to turn their community into a dumping ground for undesirables.

Alice M. Coe and other Brentwood Village residents -- in the area bounded by Preston Street, Greenmount Avenue, the Fallsway and Madison Street -- huddled this week at St. Frances Academy to vent frustrations and map a strategy against the move.

Many said they felt blindsided by Cardinal William H. Keeler's April 27 announcement of plans to move the soup kitchen from next to the Basilica of the Assumption on Cathedral Street to the 500 block of E. Preston St.

"We got run over by a truck," said Coe, 56, standing outside her red-brick rowhouse in the 600 block of Chase St. "We've been trying to upgrade the community, and then this comes along."

Brentwood's community organizer, Patrick Lee, said he and the St. Frances Academy principal, Sister John Francis Schilling, met with Catholic Charities officials yesterday to make residents' concerns known.

A member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence objected to the soup kitchen's move last week, but the Catholic order, which operates a high school and convent near the proposed site later distanced itself from her comments.

"We really want to know if this is a done deal," Lee said. "If it is, we have some negotiating to do with what else Catholic Charities can bring to the community."

Hal Smith, Catholic Charities' executive director, said he plans to meet with the interested parties for the next six months to discuss the move's feasibility.

"This is a consultation phase to figure out what we should do and how we should do it," Smith said.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos purchased the proposed site, a dilapidated building, for an undisclosed sum and donated it to the diocese.

The $10 million relocation plan includes expanding the soup kitchen and adding an employment center. Christopher Place, a residential job training center, also would move, from the 700 block of E. Eager St. to the East Preston Street site, doubling its capacity to 70 participants.

To finance the move, the archdiocese will contribute $5 million to an endowment and solicit donations for the remaining $5 million. Keeler has said that when funding and approvals have been obtained, the move should take about two years.

In its present location, Our Daily Bread, which is operated by Associated Catholic Charities Inc., feeds up to 900 people a day. Downtown business leaders have sought to change the location out of concern that homeless people hurt business and property values. Supporters of the move have said the new location will better serve the city's homeless population.

Smith said the expansion also will provide Brentwood Village residents more programs, such as the employment service.

"We think it's going to be a real positive thing for the community," he said.

To measure community reaction, Lee said, he has surveyed residents and St. Frances Academy students, faculty and parents. Of the 255 questioned, he said, 93 percent had negative feelings about the relocation.

In the past few years, Lee said, the community has been trying to improve itself by organizing Saturday cleanups, boarding up vacant houses and planting gardens, but progress has been slow. Many residents, he said, feel that Our Daily Bread will spark more drug-related activity and loitering.

Shirley Santos, who lives in the 1000 block of Brentwood Ave., said her concerns do not reflect a not-in-my-back yard attitude, but rather frustration over the process of choosing her neighborhood as a possible location.

"Everything is in our back yard. Fifteen years ago, we opposed Christopher Place, and it's here," Santos said. "It's like we're a landfill."

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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