What Then Must We Do?
I am afraid that Rosalind Ellis is "failing to comprehend" the wrong thing ("Beans and Fiends," The Mail, Dec. 9). I feel confident that the Catholic Church has a pretty clear understanding of the risks of providing services. As an 18-year veteran of homeless services, I appreciate the risks, and a) they are not as serious as those not in this field often believe, and b) the risks are completely acceptable.
I'm curious to know what Ms. Ellis would recommend as a more appropriate and logical response to the problem of homelessness. She seemed to like what happened at St. Vincent's park. That effort was brought to you by expanding programs just like Beans and Bread. We need places to do this work effectively.
I am concerned that what Ms. Ellis might be failing to comprehend is what the risks of doing nothing or not doing enough might be. By offering hope and a path out of homelessness, programs like Beans and Bread go a long way toward reducing the overall risk to the community. Doing nothing and abandoning the homeless to the streets puts us all at greater risk for an increase in crime. We are already paying for decades of neglect in our poorest neighbors--undoing this damage is not fast work, and in the meantime, we will be effectively navigating the risks.
People are upset because they don't want those who would use the services of a soup kitchen/human services agency near their homes. To a degree, I can understand this. However, we're not talking about dropping a facility into a residential area. This is an expansion of a facility that's existed in the same location for more than half of my lifetime.
Is it possible that there are some potential troublemakers there? Certainly, but the same is true for any place that deals with 300 people per day. I find it especially bothersome that in a city whose residents constantly scream for changes to make it better, what's being discussed is (at least) restricting a soup kitchen from expanding its resources. No one has offered any solution besides, "Don't do what I think will make me unhappy."
There seems to be a strong desire to just ship homeless people somewhere out of sight. Offer a solution, one that keeps in mind that Beans and Bread is not a hot dog cart that just happens to set up shop on a corner every day. It's an organization that has raised a lot of money to help people.
The expansion itself is slated, in part, to bring the people it services inside instead of having a line outside. Now, the [party] line is that since someone was stabbed there, let's make sure that 300 people per day won't gain more services. Despite all the complaints I've heard, I'd gladly trade places with those who have a problem with Beans and Bread. Having lived near open-air drug markets and recently trying to figure out if the guys up the street were actual gang members or just teenagers with nowhere to go, Beans and Bread would at least be a change of view.
This city is far from perfect, but is working to remove or restrict an organization that assists the homeless a way to improve it? It could be, depending on your idea of improvement. Additionally, those research flyers for drug users are basically the same as the ads in the back of City Paper . . . I don't get a sense of dread or nefarious intentions when I see them in this free alternative weekly. Stopping Beans and Bread from expanding won't solve the homeless problem or put a stop to the current complaints residents have--it will just waste all the effort that has gone toward expansion and possibly take away a solution to some of those complaints.
Is it possible to win City Paper's fiction contest (Feature, Dec. 2) without using the f-word or the s-word or both? Apparently not, year after year after year.
Thanks for the article on Herring Run in the Dec. 2 issue ("Streamlining," Mobtown Beat). It's a shame America can't avoid all of these no-win wars and the resulting deficits and all of those bail-outs for people who scream "less government intrusion and more free enterprise." Some of that money could be used for the infrastructure, and specifically for projects like this.
If Herring Run was given half a chance, it could really be a wilderness area in a huge municipality.
The run ends at my place with its union with Red House Run, and it is home to beavers, deer, ospreys, lots of wild ducks, raccoons, and so on. You can even see an eagle and peregrine falcon every now and then.
Please, City Paper, keep us informed about future progress.
Bernie ("Bernard") T. Walker
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201