In the heart of a West Baltimore neighborhood facing the problem of drugs, renovations have been completed on a vacant house that will open today as a haven for children.
The Oliver T. Murdock Safety House, in the Rosemont section of the city, will offer computer training, homework clubs and field trips for children, and GED courses and parenting classes for adults.
Named for a retired Baltimore police officer who was fatally shot in a 1998 robbery outside his home in that neighborhood, the Murdock house is the culmination of more than a decade of planning. The effort was started by a group of clergy who long ago agreed that the city's black churches needed to do more to eliminate drugs and violence.
"You have a church on every corner and a drug house on every corner, and no one is saying anything to anybody," said the Rev. Willie E. Ray, president of Save Another Youth Inc., the organization opening the house. "It's almost like it is socially accepted."
Ray said he hopes the house, which will be staffed by volunteers, becomes a "home away from home" for children and becomes an example for others to help.
State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at today's 1:30 p.m. official opening of the house at 2858 Harlem Ave.
In 1992, Save Another Youth acquired the two-story house from the city, and in 2000 the group secured a $25,000 grant for renovations from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention with Schaefer's assistance, Ray said.
The Safety House is in a West Baltimore area known for its open-air drug dealing and violence, residents say.
In 1993, a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot near the house. Ray, who also lives in the 2800 block of Harlem Ave., prayed over the boy as he died. That incident helped shape Ray's vision for the house, he said.
"We had to learn just exactly what these children out here in the streets need and try to give it to them," Ray said.
The Safety House will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
"We're hoping this is inspiration and persuasion for our youth to do something better," said Charlotte Perry of the Alliance of Rosemont Community Organizations. She lives in the 2300 block of Harlem Ave.
Ray said he hopes this will be the first of several neighborhood safety houses around the city and that it makes good on a promise by clergy earlier this year to address drug areas.
In April, Ray and other pastors announced that Save Another Youth was restarting the "One Church, One Corner, One Community" program, which was started in 1997.
That program encouraged churches to confront drug dealers and reclaim at least one corner used for drug dealing. It also calls for children's safety houses.