Wider mission, new location

Our Daily Bread's facility, next to city jail, will offer job training in addition to meals

May 24, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,sun reporter

After a quarter-century of feeding the hungry next to the heart of Baltimore's Roman Catholic community, Our Daily Bread is about to move to a new home - on the edge of downtown, adjacent to the city's jail.

Renamed the Our Daily Bread Employment Center, the $15 million, 52,000-square- foot facility will expand the offerings of the city's largest soup kitchen far beyond feeding Baltimore's homeless and poor to provide such services as job training.

Patrons will "basically see the same meal, but they'll have increased opportunities," says Dennis Murphy, director of the new facility.

First housed in a Franklin Street rowhouse, Our Daily Bread now serves an average of 700 lunches every day next to the Basilica of the Assumption on Cathedral Street.

Staff members and volunteers expect to serve about the same number of meals in the new facility, which is being dedicated today, though the new kitchen has features to make meal assembly more efficient, such as warming stations and more storage for donations.

Officials also hope that more guests will enroll in job training now offered under the same roof, so that eventually they will no longer need the free meal. In the past, Murphy says, clients would bypass the services at St. Jude's Employment Center on Franklin Street, around the corner from the existing Our Daily Bread facility.

Some of the motivation will sit in the dining room itself. Formerly homeless men from Christopher Place Employment Academy, a residential job-readiness program that will use the second and third floor of the new building, will eat two meals a day there, dressed in shirts and ties.

"Not everybody will go to Christopher Place, but at least they'll see that they could have something better," Murphy says.

The Maryland Re-Entry Partnership, which helps men rejoin society after incarceration, will also be based at the new center.

The new building, surrounded by correctional facilities and a strip club and separated from downtown by the Jones Falls Expressway, was chosen after a long search. Downtown business owners had complained for years about nuisances and crimes at Our Daily Bread's current site, across from the central Enoch Pratt Free Library.

But the relocation of the soup kitchen and other services a half-mile away, funded with public and private money, has raised concerns that it exiles the homeless and concentrates services in a location that is not as accessible.

"They deem the only area acceptable for poor people is next to the jail. They don't see how it offends human dignity," says Brendan Walsh of Viva House, a Catholic Worker community. Our Daily Bread's current location adjacent to the basilica is symbolic, and moving it is a violation of the church's theology, Walsh says.

"The common table should be next to the altar table," he says.

For example, Walsh suggests that Catholic Charities could have put these programs in the Rochambeau, an apartment building torn down by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to construct a prayer garden dedicated to Pope John Paul II.

Catholic Charities says the poor will still be served at the current location. The building will be renovated to house My Sister's Place, a day shelter for homeless women and children, as well as the Samaritan Center, which offers referrals and other aid.

Though My Sister's Place will offer three meals a day at that location, it is expected to serve about 125 women and children - fewer than at Our Daily Bread.

Rather than resisting the change, another major Baltimore service provider plans to follow Our Daily Bread. Health Care for the Homeless, now on the west side of the city, expects to break ground as early as next year on a $17.5 million facility a few blocks south of the new Our Daily Bread center, says Kevin Lindamood, the group's vice president for external affairs.

The site is also near two other missions, he says, so it is close to other services for the poor.

"I think a lot of us in the homeless-services field initially cringed that services were being put over immediately across from the jail and kind of shoved over mentally," Lindamood says. But now there's a recognition that the selected location for both these organizations are the only places close to downtown for facilities of their size.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, and Robin Budish of the Historic Charles Street Association, both describe the new facility as a win-win situation.

"We care deeply about the plight of the homeless, and we feel that the improvement in services is beneficial to the homeless as well as the overall downtown community," says Fowler, who is also on the board of Health Care for the Homeless and chairman of Baltimore's Board of Homeless Services.

"No one has a problem with the provision of services to the homeless in that area," he says. But it was the impact of Our Daily Bread on surrounding businesses and residents that raised concerns.

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