Stemming the tide of homelessness
Here's the top question we at Health Care for the Homeless have been asked all summer: Is it just me, or are there more homeless people on the streets downtown?
It isn't just you. We see it too, and have noticed a corresponding increase in phone calls and messages from community leaders concerned about people living on park benches, in doorways and along the Jones Falls Expressway ("Homeless booted from city site," Aug. 16).
The Sun's editorial "Housing needs" (Aug. 10) identifies the housing market engines propelling this visible increase in homelessness, including an appalling shortage of affordable housing, the doubling of housing prices in the private market and lethargy on the federal level in passing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to assist cash-strapped communities such as Baltimore.
Another engine is the erosion of emergency shelter resources.
According to a report from the state's Department of Human Resources, in fiscal year 2006 Baltimore lost 3,167 bed-nights and had more than 11,000 "turnaways" as a result of insufficient shelter space.
And the city has lost nearly 400 shelter beds a night this summer with the summer closure of the city's winter shelter and the shutdown of the Greenmount Avenue facility formerly operated by I Can Inc.
The result is that more people are spending more time on the street.
The pending loss of the YWCA's 73-bed shelter program for women means the situation might get even worse ("United Way agrees to pact," Aug. 9).
But how can we make the situation better?
The Sun is right in calling both for federal assistance and "a more comprehensive and coherent" housing plan here at home. The creation of additional emergency shelter space would be one important interim step.
And state action to expand Medicaid eligibility for low-income parents and single adults ("O'Malley favors Medicaid growth," Aug. 12) would give more people the care they need to avoid the merciless cycle of job loss, eviction and homelessness.
The writer is vice president for external affairs for Health Care for the Homeless Inc.
Reviewing options for city tax relief
Keith Losoya's column "Property taxes make Baltimore intolerable" (Opinion
Commentary, Aug. 9) is an impassioned plea for giving overburdened city taxpayers some relief - in the hope that this will help attract more homebuyers to the city and thus increase the city's tax base and help secure the future social and economic health of Baltimore.
As a city taxpayer and the executive officer of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, I wholeheartedly endorse his sentiments.
The city is overly dependent on the property tax as its primary source of revenue.
And that is why I was pleased that Mayor Sheila Dixon, shortly after taking office, took the initiative to appoint the Blue Ribbon Committee on Taxes and Fees to examine the city's tax structure and make recommendations aimed at reducing the high city property tax rate.
The panel, which I am privileged to co-chair, has been meeting biweekly since April 1, analyzing and discussing specific methods for reducing the high property tax rate and looking at various alternative approaches to meeting the city's revenue needs.
Citizens interested in this issue can review the many documents and background data under review by the tax panel by going to the city's Web site.
The tax panel will be finalizing its recommendations and issuing a comprehensive report to the mayor and City Council by mid- to late-September.
Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III
Slots would only add to woes of city poor
"Unconscionable." That's the word that keeps coming to mind every time I hear an elected official speak in favor of slots ("Report makes case for Md. slots," Aug. 15). Unconscionable.
Where there are slots, there are, of course, gamblers. And where there are gamblers, there are individuals whose disease of addiction manifests itself at slot machines, over and over and over again.
Gamblers who are addicted to gambling don't care whether they win or lose. They don't care whose money they gamble away or what the consequences may be.
They must gamble, just as surely as a heroin addict must shoot dope into his or her veins, no matter what the risk.
So gambling addicts lose their pocket money one night then, over time, they lose their savings, their spouse's savings, their children's savings, their home, their car, their job and their worldly possessions.
They steal from everyone they know and from those they don't know to get the money it takes to gamble.
It isn't logical, it isn't reasonable and there is no justification for that behavior.
But, just like cancer, addiction is a disease.
Slots, you say? In a city with one of the highest rates of addiction in the country?
And at Pimlico race course in Park Heights, to be specific, in an area where drug addiction continues to ruin lives, ruin entire families, ruin children's futures and ruin whole blocks?
Why would any elected official even think of doing such a thing to a neighborhood where residents struggle every day to keep their young boys and men alive?
Why would he or she even think of doing such a thing to a neighborhood where one-third of families live below the poverty line and well over half the residents are out of work?
Is there no conscience that dictates consideration for city residents?
Is money the almighty rationale elected officials use to justify foisting one more addictive opportunity on the already impoverished to help them ruin themselves and their families and their neighborhood?
If the horse racing industry is so enamored of slots then I say, go for it: Put slots right where the horse farms are, right in the industry's own back yard.
Let's go ahead and make gambling convenient to those who can afford it in the counties surrounding Baltimore.
But, please, leave Park Heights alone.
We have enough problems as it is.
The writer is a doctoral student in public health at Morgan State University.
New reports useless to students' parents
Partly because of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, recent trends in education have put an extreme emphasis on testing and evaluating students.
Dedicated teachers who would prefer to teach to the child are being forced to teach instead to the test so that it is easier for school systems to tabulate results and determine progress.
Now the Baltimore County Public Schools' Office of Equity and Assurance has developed yet another tool that will add to (not replace) over-burdened teachers' ever-growing paperwork obligations ("System charts pupil progress," Aug. 11).
As a former county teacher and a parent, I do not see this computerized checklist evaluation system as practical.
The sample reports that appeared along with the article in last Saturday's Sun listed math skills and included math terms such as the commutative, associative and distributive properties.
I question whether most parents remember these math terms or if they even learned them. And if they don't even know the terms, how practical would such a checklist be?
At present, this ill-conceived plan is being used on a voluntary basis.
I hope local school administrators will see its folly and make the logical decision not to use it.
If teachers are made to use this system, they will be forced to waste valuable time inputting data that probably will not be understood or used by the group the information is intended for - their students' parents.
Karen W. Gronau
Battered women often can't escape
The Sun last week ran a column questioning why violence against athletes' partners has not prompted the same public outrage as Michael Vick's alleged mistreatment of dogs ("Where's the outrage for athletes who abuse partners," Opinion
Commentary, Aug. 8).
On The Sun's Web site, many of the comments about this article have repeated the old argument that battered women choose to stay with their abusers.
What this argument misses, however, is one of the realities of domestic violence: Often women do attempt to leave and pay a terrible price.
Baltimore County resident Anna Bergman had been battered repeatedly by her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Butler.
She left Mr. Butler, taking their three-year old son with her. But Mr. Butler could not accept that the relationship was over and, in late July, after repeatedly harassing Ms. Bergman, he allegedly murdered the 20-year old mother ("Man faces murder charge in ex-girlfriend's shooting," July 31).
Ms. Bergman didn't stay. She sought the assistance of the courts and was denied. And she was killed.
Separation-related violence is all too common; ending the relationship is the most dangerous time for a battered woman, as her abuser becomes desperate to reassert his control.
The idea that a woman can "choose" to leave, and end the relationship without further violence, is simply unrealistic in many cases.
Cruelty to animals is reprehensible. Research has shown a close connection between animal abuse and partner abuse.
But violence against Ms. Bergman and other women like her is equally deserving of our attention.
Bobbie Steyer L. Tracy Brown
The writers are, respectively, the president and the executive director of the Women's Law Center of Maryland Inc.
Carroll Co. needs to study bus options
I found much merit in Michael Dresser's "Getting There" column "Time for Carroll to get on the bus" (Aug. 13).
I believe the time is ripe for Carroll County to pursue commuter bus options. Separate routes connecting Westminster, Hampstead and Eldersburg to the Owings Mills Metro make sense to me.
But rather than the large, luxury buses Mr. Dresser envisions, the county might do well to use smaller mini-buses. These would use less fuel and require fewer riders to be cost-effective.
Over time, if the demand for more capacity was obvious, we could add larger buses at peak hours.
I was also intrigued by Mr. Dresser's suggestion that the same buses, after their Owings Mills stop, should continue on to Woodlawn and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
A bus line from Mount Airy to the Shady Grove Metro station in Gaithersburg should also be explored.
Clearly there are a significant number of Carroll County commuters to these employment centers.
Perhaps the Maryland Transit Authority could develop a survey that would help determine the potential for such a route as well as for the routes to the Owings Mills Metro station.
At a minimum, we need to begin a good conversation about what kind of commuter solutions can help unclog some of our major arteries.
The writer is a Carroll County commissioner.
Crackdown harms families in need
The Sun's article "Employers wary of crackdown" (Aug. 11) discusses only the potential economic costs of this administration's recently announced shift toward harsher enforcement of laws against hiring undocumented workers.
It makes no mention of the human cost incurred when families (including those of U.S. citizens) are broken up by immigration raids; when those whose only offense is to overstay a visa are treated as, and detained with, dangerous criminals or when hard-working immigrants are fired from jobs they need to support their family.
Enforcement-only immigration policies provide the illusion of border control even as they show little concern for its practical or humanitarian consequences and bring the United States ever closer to becoming the kind of "Papers, please!" state that was always the bad guy in the movies I watched growing up.
As a Catholic who votes my values, I protest this immoral policy that violates the human rights of workers and families.
And as a proud descendant of German and Irish immigrants, I stand in solidarity with today's immigrants who have come to this country in pursuit of the same American dream that brought my great-grandparents here.
Genocide charge remains unproven
For the U.S. Congress to pass the bill condemning the alleged genocide of Armenians in Eastern Turkey during World War I and be sure that this action is not tainted by historical inaccuracy, Congress would need specific proof that such a genocide took place from a universally accepted court of justice or agency such as the International Court of Justice or the United Nations ("A debate not needed," editorial, Aug. 10).
These institutions stipulate guidelines for proof of a charge of genocide.
A charge of genocide must be thoroughly analyzed and scrutinized under the light of international law.
Archives, documents, recorded testimonies of witnesses, unfettered research by historians and hard evidence are required to make sure that claim can be established.
But no such process has been conducted by the key international institutions in this case.
Last April, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared that the United Nations has never recognized that genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire ever took place.
And certainly the International Court in the Hague has never approached this issue.
If this resolution is passed, Congress will be left with mud on its face, having once shown that this country is run by powerful ethnic (and other) lobbies.
Ready to handle retail clinic work
I take umbrage at the concerns expressed by Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, executive director of MedChi, the Maryland Medical Association, regarding the retail-based health clinics opening in the Baltimore area ("GBMC doctors to oversee clinics at 4 Target stores," Aug. 14). They are unfair and not supported by scientific evidence.
Dr. Wasserman worries that "something could be missed" by a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant seeing patients in these clinics.
I wonder why he said this, as there are no scientific studies I know of which would back up this statement.
And while I agree that any competent practitioner can miss something, why did Dr. Wasserman choose to point out the possibility of error on the part of one group of medical professionals but not by doctors like himself?
There are close to 180,000 nurse practitioners and physician's assistants practicing all across the United States.
Many of us are working in satellite clinics or in rural and poor neighborhoods, and we are not missing problems much more complex than most of those which will be seen at these retail clinics.
There are PAs and NPs in Iraq and Afghanistan doing complex trauma care and saving lives daily. And today PAs are flight surgeons, NPs are clinic chiefs and both staff hospitals coast to coast.
We can handle all of this, believe me.
Our emergency medicine system is in crisis.
It is time someone tried a new approach to treating health problems.
The writer is a physician's assistant and the secretary of the American College of Clinicians.
Should the Mechanic be saved?
As a devoted historic preservationist, I've been trying to get my head around the question of whether brutalism, as an architectural genre represented by the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, is worth preserving at all, and I had just about convinced myself that maybe it should be.
Thank goodness architect John M. Johansen came along to remind me why the Mechanic should be erased from Baltimore with as much dispatch as possible and replaced with something we can actually enjoy ("Save Mechanic, architect urges," Aug. 14).
To quote Mr. Johansen: "The people whose views should be taken seriously [about preserving the theater] are deans of architecture schools and that sort of thing, not the common person on the street."
This is the same kind of cultural elitism that asks us to accept and be grateful for the statue in front of Penn Station or consider ourselves provincial for hoping for something like a fountain or a steam locomotive or virtually anything else on that site that might be pleasant to look at.
It's the same condescending attitude that asked us "common people" to look beyond the discordant, alienating quality of much of modern art and architecture to see the "higher" qualities of, well, whatever the artist or architect was hoping to achieve.
We don't have to look beyond the obvious qualities of the works of Claude Monet, Ludwig von Beethoven or Frank Lloyd Wright to see the value of their work - it is right there in front of us, undeniable, compelling, instantly indispensable to a civilized society.
Their work requires no explanations or apologies.
And let me propose another definition of great architecture for Mr. Johansen to consider: Will people miss it when it's gone?
The Mechanic has been absent from Baltimore's theater scene for years. Yet I have never heard anyone express the slightest regret about that fact.
No one I know or talk to pines for the days of walking up to the Mechanic, in its sea of concrete, to enjoy a show. But they do talk excitedly about the re-born Hippodrome Theatre, where the mere act of walking in the front door is an event worth remembering.
I suspect that if the Mechanic meets the wrecking ball and is replaced by something people actually use, enjoy and find visually appealing, no one will mourn its passing or even comment upon its absence.
Let's not burden Baltimore with what amounts to another enormous statue in a prominent and important location.
Tear the Mechanic down, build something better and even the deans of architecture schools will be grateful.
The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre's architect, John M. Johansen, petitioned Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to designate the facility as a historical landmark. This could save his work from the wrecking ball ("Panel acts to protect the Mechanic," Aug. 15).
Preservation of the theater is an option. But I would suggest an alternative that would benefit future generations and the city.
Take the theater, place it on a barge and ship it to a point 10 miles into the Atlantic Ocean off Ocean City.
After obtaining the appropriate approvals and permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, send the facility to its final resting place in the ocean.
I hope this horrific edifice, with its terrible acoustics, won't scare the fish away.
That way, Baltimore will be spared from further ocular insult and Ocean City may gain an attraction for divers and the morbidly curious.
Michael D. Rausa
Kudos to the city's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation for voting unanimously to save the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre from destruction.
The structure's fa?ade is not unlike that of London's National Theatre.
Designed in the same brutalistic style as the Mechanic by Sir Denys Lasdum, that building's poured concrete exterior is enhanced by having varied colored lights playing upon it at night.
In the last 10 years that structure has been renovated. But changes were limited to such items as better acoustics and a larger box office. The exterior was not altered.
I hope the renovation of this British landmark will serve as a guide for renewing the Mechanic.
Bennard B. Perlman
The writer was a member of the Architectural Advisory Board of Baltimore's former Committee for Downtown.
As someone who is deeply interested in the theatrical history of this city, I have long deplored the actions Morris A. Mechanic took to get a theater named after him.
After all, he destroyed more architecturally significant theatres than the one he built, including Ford's Theatre, which stood for nearly 100 years on Fayette Street (and was built by the same man who built the more infamous Ford's Theatre in Washington).
Mr. Mechanic also committed what is considered by many to be an act of architectural vandalism equal to the destruction of the old Penn Station in New York City: razing the Stanley Theatre on Howard Street.
This, and more, was done to make certain his new theatre at Charles Center had no competition.
And, as a professional stage designer, I have long known the terrible shortcomings posed by the original structure.
Nevertheless, I have always liked the building's sculptural quality, particularly in contrast to the blockish, glass towers that surrounded it.
The new design which would convert the building into a mixed-use, 10-story tower ignores that sensibility ("Future of Mechanic hinges on its design," Aug. 13).
Indeed, whatever Mr. Mechanic's original intentions, I find the architectural abomination which may be about to replace his theater much more reprehensible.
I never thought one day I would applaud conferring landmark status on this structure. But, considering the alternative, it's a worthwhile action.
The writer is a professor of environmental design at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
While I have enjoyed many shows at the Morris A Mechanic Theatre over the years, the Hippodrome Theatre is in a different league.
And it's now time to tear down the Mechanic - that hulking, sullen concrete bunker, hunkered down and abandoned in the center of our now vibrant city.
The time for bunkers is over; the time for inspiration and beauty is now.