A home for a soup kitchen

January 18, 2000

WHERE TO serve Our Daily Bread?

That question remains five months after Associated Catholic Charities withdrew a plan to move the largest soup kitchen in the state from its downtown site across from the Enoch Pratt Central Library at Franklin and Cathedral streets. Library officials, nearby businesses and residents have complained that some of the people served by the soup kitchen cause problems: petty crime, panhandling, loitering, littering.

Catholic Charities, with financial help from Baltimore Orioles' principal owner Peter G. Angelos, last spring pursued a new site to house a soup kitchen and other services just east of downtown in Johnston Square. But the plan was withdrawn after a neighborhood parochial school and City Council members objected.

Problems related to Our Daily Bread's location persist. But so does the need: The operation feeds roughly 800 people a day, four times as many as when it opened in 1981.

The fate of Our Daily Bread and a possible future home -- or several smaller, future homes -- rests partly with a task force appointed by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke during his last month in office. Its charge is to study the city's response to the hungry and homeless. The task force intends to release recommendations in the next month or so. Catholic Charities isn't obliged to follow the report, but will likely consider the conclusions before proceeding. Here are some views on the matter from key people involved.

Rob Hess is president of the Center for Poverty Solutions.

The ultimate solution for Our Daily Bread will be up to Catholic Charities, obviously, but hopefully it will be integrated into a bigger system of service delivery that will move the needle for the poor and hungry, whether it is a day-resource center or a variety of day-resource centers.

One of the issues for Our Daily Bread in its current location is the density. It was built for 150 clients, but serves 800 or 900. That kind of density shouldn't occur in any one community.

Bea Gaddy, a new member of Baltimore City Council, is a long-time advocate for the poor.

Baltimore should acquire land large enough to incorporate all of the services needed and transportation to get these people back and forth to these services. If they want poor people out of the city, then do what it takes to make them fruitful and stable. ... People are not going to have anywhere to eat downtown since the city wants to get them out of downtown, but give them somewhere else to go. Give them a hand until they reach stability.

George Collins, chairman of the mayoral task force on hunger, is former chairman of the archdiocese committee studying Our Daily Bread and former president and chief executive officer of T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.

Everything is pending. We have looked at several sites, but it will take City Council action to use them. Our Daily Bread serves a lot of people and serves them well. -- I'm hopeful something good will transpire.

It may take more than 12 months. It may take several years. Our Daily Bread's move will happen if we find a home for it.

I knew it would be a problem and it will be a problem wherever you put it. Moving may also be a problem for Our Daily Bread volunteers. There are a lot of constituencies to consider.

Harold A. Smith is executive director of Associated Catholic Charities.

We're still in the search mode. There are some good things happening with the committee. We're looking at one center or a group of them in a diversity of locations. This is obviously taking place in the midst of political change. --

One of our criteria is to make sure the next site isn't a problem for people. I don't think it's impossible. It's in all of our interests to make it work. The number of women and children seeking assistance is growing. -- Those people clearly don't have enough to live on and have a lot of other issues that need to be addressed.

Jacki Coyle has been director of Our Daily Bread since mid-1998.

We're trying to look at areas we've talked about in terms of expanding services. ... We have many guests who are working service jobs, the lower-paying jobs. It's very hard to make a living on minimum wage in Baltimore. We're still seeing an increased number of women and children.

Most people we serve come from the 01 and 02 ZIP codes right here in the central city. We have a wonderful paid staff. They have eagle eyes when we're outside. They're aware of people's concerns.

I've just not heard any negative comments recently in terms of our being here. I think we're doing a good job at trying to be a good neighbor and move people along out front. The guests really don't hang around here. They eat and move on.

J. Peter Sabonis is executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project Inc.

There's a perception in the homeless community that this is an opportunity for a win-win -- an increase in homeless services and businesses get a certain undesirable population moved out of the business community.

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