Jewish leaders are not unaware of the irony of homeless Baltimoreans congregating at the site of the Holocaust Memorial, despite the discomfort it causes some visitors. As Rabbi Murray Saltzman put it, during the time of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish people were homeless. Moreover, here is a monument to the human tragedy of the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews in Europe, visited daily by the city's most disadvantaged citizens, flotsam of a modern human tragedy of disregard in an economy which has no use for them.
Initially, many Jews had wanted the memorial to be located in Northwest Baltimore, center of the city's Jewish population. Municipal officials provided a city block adjacent to the Community College of Baltimore, however, putting the site a short walk from the Inner Harbor and offering non-Jews a chance to learn about the Holocaust.
Such learning became easier when, three years ago, the Baltimore Jewish Council added a sculpture of Holocaust victims consumed by flames. According to Art Abramson, executive director of the council, an explanatory plaque may also be added.
But what to do about the congregation of the homeless? Their presence symbolizes in a real way the high costs that economic changes exact from people deemed no longer useful in a society in which everyone is expected to pay his or her own way. Putting a fence around the Holocaust Memorial, as some have suggested, might keep the homeless off its grounds, but it will not solve the problems which brought them to the site.
Such a solution will have to entail greater expenditure of municipal and private resources to provide safe, clean shelter for homeless people. Visit one of the agencies serving the homeless, such as Our Daily Bread, and you will see that "homeless" now includes whole families as well as individuals, young as well as old.
Society's failure to deal adequately with their needs has all too often left them with no place to go. Fencing them out, without providing alternatives, would only shove them over to the next available area of relative quiet and safety. That would be compounding an American tragedy which has already grown to alarming proportions.