New beginnings

May 29, 2007

In philosophy and design, the new Our Daily Bread Employment Center run by Catholic Charities, which will be officially open to "guests" next week, reaches out to men who are on the margins. They could be homeless, or recovering from addiction or criminal activity - or both - or simply down on their luck. The sparkling facility, nestled between city and state correctional facilities alongside the Jones Falls Expressway, will offer a range of services from meals to job readiness and life skills training.

Some advocates have complained that the center's location further isolates people who are displaced and largely invisible to the vast majority of city residents. But it should be seen as an oasis or protective cover that shelters vulnerable men until they can fully benefit from the center's comprehensive efforts to bring them back into mainstream society.

In more than two decades of feeding the hungry, officials at Our Daily Bread rightly recognized that the most important service they could provide was connecting people to jobs. But too many of those who come for a meal don't take advantage of nearby employment services.

By putting job counselors just down the hall from the dining area, and by almost doubling the capacity for participants in a more intensive residential program, officials hope that the new facility will help move more meal-takers toward work. That will require more employers to hire the center's customers as well as more volunteers to help those customers make the transition.

There are some potential guests who will avoid the center because it is in a more remote area than the established Our Daily Bread facility on Cathedral Street. But concerns that the proximity of the center to correctional institutions shows a lack of caring or regard for the population to be served are shortsighted. Instead, the center should be viewed as a kind of choice point between being locked up and heading to a more productive lifestyle.

The welcoming atmosphere and the services offered by the center will give those who have fallen down a helping hand - and a real second chance.

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