Accord reached on feeding homeless

December 17, 2005|BY A SUN REPORTER

Baltimore health officials and students at Loyola College reached a compromise yesterday in their dispute over efforts to feed the homeless.

Under the agreement, the students will continue to be allowed to provide food for two more months, while city officials try to find a more permanent place for the charity work that complies with city regulations, according to Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore's health commissioner.

"The students are going to work with the health department to find a place where they can provide food in a sanitary way - according to the regulations, with a link to services for the people they're helping," Sharfstein said. "It's our job to find a way to make this work."

For more than a decade, students from the college's Center for Values and Service have participated in the school's Care-a-Van program, providing the homeless two nights a week with such food as turkey-and-cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate, as well as toiletries.

But on Nov. 14, a Health Department representative notified the students that they're required to have running hot and cold water for volunteers who were serving food to wash their hands.

Loyola suspended the program while college officials worked on getting a license - but this week, students decided to continue delivering food anyway in a park outside St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

The students will continue to be permitted to hand out food outside the church for the next two months, starting on Monday, while the college and health department try to find a more permanent site. During the two months, a city homeless outreach worker will join the students to try to connect people with available services, and whatever future location is found will also include greater links to services, Sharfstein said.

"I think this is a great solution," said Loyola sophomore Ashley Biggs. "I think it's actually a step up, because they're helping us connect our food program with getting people into services through the city."

Sister Catherine Gugerty, director of Loyola's Center for Values and Service, said the college hopes to find "a place that is not hidden away and off the beaten track. We want to be in a location that is convenient for the people who come."

Sharfstein - who is completing his first official week as the city's health commissioner - said other homeless providers had been given a transition period to bring their efforts up to regulations, but the Loyola program hadn't been given adequate notice of the rules.

"The basic principle that food should be given in the safest way to people is a good principle, but you've got to understand that this is a unique situation and be reasonable," Sharfstein said. "When there are committed students like this, the health department has to work with them to make a difference."

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