Two agencies serving the poor say they will merge July 1 All-purpose center urged in city for the homeless


Two private agencies that worked together for a year in an alliance for the poor have announced they are merging July 1 to become the Center for Poverty Solutions.

They are urging creation of an all-purpose resource center for the homeless in downtown Baltimore. That possibility has become part of the controversy over whether Catholic Charities should move the soup kitchen Our Daily Bread as some businesses and others have suggested.

Approving the merger, planned for a year, were the boards of the Maryland Food Committee, which raises funds to feed the hungry and provides direct help to poor people, and Action for the Homeless, a lobbying group.

Robert V. Hess, who has led the two affiliated groups since May 1997, will be president and chief executive officer. The boards under Dan Billig, president of the Action for the Homeless board, and Howard Weiss, who heads the food group, will be joined and new officers chosen next month.

The center plans to expand the work of both agencies under a $3.7 million budget and to trim overhead costs by about $50,000. But it will not cut staff, Hess said.

The staff will be more than 90, including 35 to 40 federally funded AmeriCorps workers. Fifty employees will be at the food committee site, 2521 N. Charles St. Others will work in 25 locations, from Ocean City to Oakland.

"We will be pushing for the community resource center," Hess said. "It's been mentioned for years. Now, a homeless person in Baltimore spends all day traveling for basic human needs.

"Someone might go to the Department of Social Services on North Avenue for certain things. Then to Action to hear about a place to stay. Then to My Sister's Place to pick up mail or get counseling. Then to Health Care for the Homeless for some treatment. Then to Our Daily Bread for a meal. A resource center would be much more efficient."

Billig said of the new nonprofit group: "Unlike many corporate mergers which primarily seek to reduce costs and increase revenue, this merger is focused on expanding our mission and effectiveness. We plan to develop and champion innovative and successful policies and services."

The merger allows the agencies to better attack "the root causes of poverty," its main mission, Hess said. "We need affordable housing, child care, health care, job training and, most important, jobs that pay a living wage."

Other projects are being discussed. As the result of a visit to New York City, officials in the merger are starting talks with community residents about a possible Baltimore version of New York's Times Square Hotel for homeless and low-income people.

The center will cooperate with other groups to undertake new food initiatives for the poor.

During a yearlong trial alliance, the two nonprofit groups helped lobby successfully for a $500,000 state emergency food program, held an Opportunity Fair drawing 3,000 low-income people to the Convention Center in January and ran a New Horizons Camp of academic enrichment last summer for poor Baltimore children living in city shelters and elsewhere.

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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