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Director of youth homeless center burned in Baltimore riots: 'Anger is legitimate'

Director of homeless youth center burned in Baltimore riots: "Anger is legitimate."

Lara Law seemed more sad than angry on Tuesday morning as she assessed the fire damage to the Baltimore youth center where she and others provide services to young homeless people frustrated with a lack of opportunities in the city’s many impoverished neighborhoods.

If it was a similarly-frustrated city youth who torched the center amid the riots in Baltimore, Law said, "the anger is legitimate and understandable" -- even if the actions were not.

“I don’t condone the violence and the destruction, the tearing down of what we need in our community, but the young people out on the streets are some of the same young people we’re serving – filled with trauma and violence and a lack of opportunity their whole lives,” Law said. “It’s understandable. We have to fix our way of doing things so they feel included and that there are opportunities for them.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Law and her staff were in a temporary work space in a nearby café doing the same work they've always done for the program’s 14- to 25-year-old participants – some of whom Law fears may have been caught on the streets in the violence Monday night for no fault of their own.

“We’re anxious to talk to them and find out how they were affected last night and how they continue to be affected,” said Law, director of the Youth Empowered Society Drop-in Center on North Charles Street.

“We really just want to clean this up and offer this service, because exactly what the youths on the street last night were asking for is something we can provide,” Law said. “We want to be among the organizations and homes and businesses that are opening their doors right now, and be all that we can be to show them they are supported.”

The clashes that left at least 144 vehicles and 15 structures on fire also claimed much of the center’s space, sometime between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. in the 2300 block of North Charles, Law said.

Video surveillance showed no one entering the building, so Law believes someone “threw something burning through the front windows.”

Firefighters who responded had to hack down the front door with an ax to gain entry.

On Tuesday, the drop-in center – a safe space for homeless youth during the day and a hub of information for them to connect with other service providers – was a sad sight. It’s front office space had a layer of thick black sludge from ash and water to smother the flames.

Law said the center’s computers and files were thankfully spared, but there is heavy smoke damage. “It’s hard to be here because there’s a lot in the air,” she said.

Law said she didn’t know why the center was burned, or if it was random. A nearby GameStop store, which sells videogames and related items, also sustained damage, she said.

“We’re still trying to determine if we’ll be able to direct people to the back of the building to do drop-in,” Law said. “And if not today, when?”

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