"The poor shall never cease out of the land," it says in Deuteronomy, confirming that people falling on the skids was a common phenomenon even in biblical times. Yet layoffs and the current recession are threatening to unglue the fragile fabric keeping many individuals' and families' lives together. Public and private social agencies report they are swamped with needy people asking for emergency or long-term help.
Perhaps it is indicative of the hard times in which we live that building activity by private social service providers is thriving.
On Dec. 1, Our Daily Bread, Baltimore's best-known soup kitchen, moved to its new $1 million home at Cathedral and Franklin streets, next to the Basilica of the Assumption. This is the first permanent, custom-designed home for the soup kitchen, which opened in 1981 in a small storefront space. On busy days a decade ago, it served 125 hungry people; now crowds of 900 meal-seekers are common.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away at 111 Park Avenue, workmen are converting a former Equitable Bank branch into a clearinghouse for homeless people. When the $1.3 million project is finished in the spring, the homeless will be able to obtain legal aid, physical examinations, psychological counseling, social and employment services in the ornate 1908 structure.
A $2 million renovation of the Salvation Army's Booth House, at 1114 Calvert Street, is scheduled for completion in the fall. Once a hotel, that historic 1890 structure has been an emergency residence for women and children since 1936. When it reopens, it will be a 30-day emergency residence for women and children forced out of their homes by fire or other circumstances.
These are worthwhile projects. But they are also a tacit admission that homelessness and other social problems that once were thought to be of a transitional nature have become a lasting part of American life in the 1990s.