At center, homeless services to share roof

Ground is broken on building for Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, long-term programs

September 30, 2005|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

In just six months, Parrish Owens says, the Christopher Place Employment Academy has changed his life.

The 38-year-old city man, once a manager at his mother's discount store on Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore, was homeless and addicted to crack when he entered the residential job-training program earlier this year. Now, he says, he has been drug-free for six months, is studying business management and is preparing to interview for supervisory jobs.

Which is why, shovel in hand, Owens joined the dignitaries who gathered yesterday for the groundbreaking of a first-of-its-kind social services center intended to bring together and expand the work of Christopher Place and other programs for the homeless run by Catholic Charities. After he graduates next year, he plans to volunteer there.

"I want to support the guys who are coming into the process," Owens said. "I want to be able to share my experience, to show them what they can do."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Mayor Martin O'Malley and former Mayors Kurt L. Schmoke and Thomas J. D'Alesandro III joined Cardinal William H. Keeler, Catholic Charities Executive Director Harold A. "Hal" Smith, workers and clients in tossing symbolic shovelfuls of dirt for the $14 million Our Daily Bread Employment Center.

The three-story, 52,000-square- foot building, to open on Fallsway near the city jail in 2006 or 2007, is intended to give those who stop in for a hot meal easy access to longer-term programs to help them get off the street.

Seven years in the planning, it will house the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen; Christopher Place, an 18-month program that claims a 95-percent job-placement rate; the St. Jude's Employment Center, a program for low-skilled workers; and the Samaritan Center, which offers such emergency services as eviction prevention support, traveler's aid and referrals for health, addiction-recovery and housing services.

"We must find a way to help those who need a meal, as well as those who want to make their way back to self-sufficiency," Smith said. "Back to earning a living and back to supporting their families. We must do this for them, and we must do this for Baltimore."

Catholic Charities has raised $13 million for the facility, including $7 million from the state, $3 million from the city and $450,000 from the federal government.

Ehrlich called the use of state funds "appropriate."

"This place will redefine charity," he said. "GED [General Educational Development] classes, counseling, medical centers, employment preparatory workshops -- that's the modern definition of charity."

Keeler called the project a model for social services.

"Before the lord, we must acknowledge so many blessings," he said. "Here we see church and state cooperating to serve the poorest of the poor."

O'Malley thanked organizers for their efforts.

"For all the development projects going on in our city, for all the cranes that we now see all around the horizon, there is no development project as meaningful as this one for what it says about our heart and our character as a people."

Our Daily Bread, now across from the central Enoch Pratt Free Library in Mount Vernon, served nearly a quarter of a million meals last year to an average of 683 visitors a day. The soup kitchen has drawn complaints from library patrons and business owners for attracting homeless people to the area.

When Our Daily Bread moves into the new building, its current space will be taken over by My Sister's Place, a day program offering breakfast and dinner, shower and laundry facilities, and life-skills workshops to homeless women and children.

Christopher Place will move from East Eager Street. The new quarters will enable the program to expand from 64 participants a year to 100 or more. St. Jude's Employment Center and the Samaritan Center will move from West Franklin Street.

Michael Callan says he came to Baltimore earlier this year because he couldn't get treatment for his addiction to cocaine without insurance in his native Connecticut. He walked into St. Jude's Employment Center six months ago and was referred to Christopher Place.

"They practice an encompassing approach to getting men back on their feet," said Callan, 39, who worked in information technology in Connecticut.

"It's very inspirational. They're not giving out handouts. They're helping you find a way to a better place."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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