Where trees thrive, people thrive

This thinking goes back to 1973.

I was a senior in high school, running an errand in the family car.  I must have been listening to WKSU.  This 5- or 15-minute segment came on.  A female spokesperson for the ACLU said that, under the compulsory school attendance law, a minor can only be in one of two places: a school, or a penal facility.  In her view there was no real difference.

I was an honors student and deeply convicted that education is the answer to poverty.  Thus her remarks left me incensed.  More than that, whereas I’ve never been a conservative, it seemed to me that the ACLU and other, like-minded movements were bent on destroying all order in society.  The family unit was under attack.  Marriage was under attack.  The schools were under attack.  Change for its own sake, which seemed to be what these people were after, isn’t good.  Nothing can be built on a foundation of chaos.  A child needs to root oneself in earth that will be in the same place today as tomorrow.  A tree can’t grow in quicksand.

Fast forward to the 1980s.  I was living at the northwest corner of Patterson Park Avenue and Lombard Street.  Half a dozen times a week, I walked half a mile north to attend some activity at church.  On this walk, it was quite clear that the trees in front of some houses thrived, while those in front of others never would.  The little monsters who lived in those houses tore the branches off the trees, so they died.  The city would replace the trees, and the children just do the same thing again.  The children in those homes were out of control because the adults in those homes were out of control.  Actually, there were no adults in those homes; just overgrown children.

I came to the conclusion: where trees thrive, people thrive.

Seven trees line the sidewalk in front of the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library (EP).  Originally, there were seven horse chestnuts, planted circa 1990.  Now, the first, second and fourth ones are sugar maples planted in 2008.  Why they chose sugar maples rather than horse chestnuts is beyond me; no one asked my advice.

In 1991, Our Daily Bread (ODB), Baltimore’s foremost soup kitchen, moved to a then-new building at 411 Cathedral Street, directly across from the library and immediately adjacent to the world-famous Basilica of the Assumption.  Controversy that appeared in the Sun at the time — and again when ODB announced varying plans to move again, from 1999 forward — made clear that ODB wasn’t welcome anywhere.  Now I know why.  It did move again in 2007, to a new building at 725 Fallsway, in the middle of nowhere.

The Sun coverage I found was vague, so let me make this very clear:  the atmosphere inside EP in those years was off the chain.  Vagrants, often drunk or passed out, were everywhere, having come in only to kill time.  Junkies nodded at computer terminals.  At the main entrance, as you come in there are immediately stairs to your right leading down to a men’s room, and stairs to your left leading down to a women’s room.  EP installed a locked door and a security camera at the top of the former; security must buzz you in.

The shelter where I stay asserts authority over everything we do everywhere within a quarter mile of the mission.  If you don’t like it, don’t come back.

I don’t know which is worse, the drunks who fill McDonald’s every morning, or the horde of rowdy teens who come from a nearby elite high school at 3:30 every afternoon.  In 1982, I was living in Patterson Park and working in Fallstaff.  I rode the #7 bus every morning.  On the bus, I’d get absorbed in my work, and as my stop approached look up and be shocked to find the bus packed with students from Northwestern High School.  It was so quiet, you’d never have supposed any child were on the bus at all.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Obviously, the school exercised authority over students’ conduct from door to door between home and school.

I never saw ODB staff make any effort to manage clients’ conduct outside their own doors.

What became of horse chestnuts numbers 1, 2 and 4?  ODB clients destroyed them.

We “overnighters” cannot use the shelter as a mailing address.  You can sign up at ODB and have your mail sent there; as I’ve done.

ODB’s new location is a 20 minute walk to or from anywhere I might come from or go to.  Given that, and a health condition, when I go there to pick up my mail I often need to use the bathroom as well.

When you come in the main entrance, there’s a lobby.  A hallway leads off into an office area to the right, and off towards the dining room to the left.  When I first started going there in 2011, I was allowed to use a small bathroom in the office area.  In 2013 this was made off-limits to all but staff.  Now I must use a large bathroom off towards the dining room.  I cannot leave my bags in the lobby; I must take them with me.  At mid-afternoon, that bathroom is normally so dirty I don’t want to use it; I don’t want to set my bags on that floor.

In an earlier post, I distinguished among acceptance, indulgence and love.  Evangelism entails constantly holding up the vision of a better life that is available to you.

Evidently, at ODB, this isn’t happening.

Related:  Archive of Baltimore Sun articles about Our Daily Bread

(Originally posted 2014-10-04.)

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