Let’s get one thing straight. Beans and Bread is a business. It’s a nonprofit business, but it’s a business. It makes money every year, which is better than many other businesses around here can say.
It pays its executive director a handsome sum and the rest of its employees a quite livable salary, its revenues increase every year and it keeps expanding.
At the moment its latest expansion is threatening houses in the 400 block Dallas Street, neighbors who have been suffering for years from deliberate mismanagement and broken promises at Beans and Bread.
If Beans and Bread were a bar, it would be repeatedly up before the Liquor Board for the disorder of its clientele and its refusal to honor agreements made with the surrounding neighborhoods.
B&B was founded in 1977 by Benet Hanlon, a former monk. He fed simple lunches to people suffering from hard times. This work went on till 1986 with many of the neighbors pitching in to cook meals and serve, until St. Vincent DePaul took over operation of the soup kitchen.
That’s when B&B went professional and started to expand, and that’s when the neighbors started seeing things that disturbed them. Like drunks hanging out in Bethel Street, because while the nuns at Beans and Bread said they would not feed aggressive drunks, they did feed them—out on the street where their general disorderliness would not disturb the peace inside.
After St. Vincent DePaul took over Beans and Bread it quietly started looking for a larger home for the soup kitchen and made the move to Bond Street.
Beans and Bread pledged that the line would no longer stretch out into the street, that it would not offer a mail drop, laundry facilities, showers or beds for overnight guests, and that it would not need to expand further. The deal was made. This was in 1992.
Almost immediately, the St. Vincent DePaul Society announced the development of the Frederick Ozanam House next door to Beans and Bread. The new facility would offer a mail drop, laundry facilities, showers and beds for “transitional housing.” for homeless men.
Protesting neighbors were characterized in major media as snobs and bigots. The Frederick Ozanam House opened in 1997, along with an expansion of the “day space” at Beans and Bread. St. Vincent DePaul assured the neighbors that tripling the space at Beans and Bread would eliminate the loitering.
The line continued to stretch out the door. The loitering, trash and lousy sanitation continued unabated.
Last year Beans and Bread announced another stealth expansion, this time with the aid of Delegate Carolyn Krysiak (D-46), a member of their board., who pushed a bond issue through the legislature for another expansion. The plans called for building out to the property line in violation of long-standing neighborhood and zoning rules, adding yet another additional story in violation of long-standing neighborhood and zoning rules, and moving the entrance of the building to Bank Street, within a few feet of the Dallas Street neighbors. The City of Baltimore announced that Beans and Bread would be a “one-stop homeless resource center,” one of two in the entire city.
So much for St. Vincent DePaul’s repeated assurances that it would not seek or accept clientele from outside the neighborhood.
The Dallas Street neighbors took the issue to court. Last week they won a small, but significant victory—the Zoning Board has to actually explain how it came to the decision to grant St. Vincent DePaul easements that it would not grant to any other business.
The Dallas Street neighbors have been chipping away at other facets of the expansion. The Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation has directed St. Vincent DePaul to move the entrance back to Bond Street, lower the roof line, and move back within allowable building limits in the neighborhood.
The Dallas Street neighbors are very reasonably suggesting that St. Vincent DePaul take its bond money to its property near Central and Baltimore streets, where there is room to expand far from residential properties.
They deserve our support, not our derision. These are not the rich-bitch gentrifiers that somehow find their way into nearly every mention of this issue. They are people who bought shells and renovated them. Their life savings are invested in their properties. St. Vincent DePaul has no right to ruin it for them.
—by Jacqueline Watts