Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Going deep into Baltimore

DAY 17 of "A Journey with the Brethren"

One of the more intense training sessions here at Orientation was a trip into Baltimore's inner city for four days to experience homelessness and to do service projects. To better understand the panges of the disadvantaged we slept and ate each day at a homeless shelter for men called I Can, Inc.

"I Can" is an acronym for "Individual, Character, Attitude and
Newness of mind."

Setup in a historic four story granite block stucture that was once a Catholic girls school called St. Ann's (dating back to 1927), I Can Inc. is located at 2215 Greenmount Avenue#&151;deep in the heart of Baltimore. Baltimore is mostly a devastated area due to a population that began fleeing to the suburbs in the 50s and the city is only now undergoing a major building spree in the downtown area, specifically in the Inner Harbor East district. The men's shelter and rehabilitation center at 2215 Greenmount Avenue is certainly indicitive of Baltimore's economic troubles.

The Rev. Lonnie Davis (Sr., executive director of I Can Inc.) is the founder of this project and several others around town. He's charismatic, intelligent and a successful non-profit entrepreneur. The housing where we stayed, only one of his many ventures, is an emergency and transitional shelter for men with a capacity for the emergency sheltering of 42 men and transitional housing open for up to 70 men.

I spent one poignant evening talking with a well spoken, college educated, 30s something, ex-baseball athlete that was now turning his life around with the help of I Can Inc. after falling into the drug trap several years ago.

Reverend Davis or the "Rev," as he told me he's usually called, spent eight months on the street in 1993. "I could have went back to my family, but I chose not to ensnare them in the problems I had with drug dependency," Davis, who picked up a heroin habit while on military duty in Thailand, told the Baltimore Sun in December of 2000.

He went on to say that "a combination of help from the Veterans Affairs hospital, the American Rescue Workers shelter and readings from the Bible turned his life around." That year, I Can Inc. received a two-year grant of $1.2 million. Davis said the program incorporates much of what he learned while fighting his addiction. "It's only through programs like this that I was able to develop and learn what it means to be a productive citizen... I've been reunited with my family," Davis went on to tell the Sun.

We slept and lived in the large auditorium located on the ground floor of the shelter. The I Can Inc. staff gave us clean blankets wrapped in sealed plastic to lie down on the floor under our sleeping bags, directed us to our own private bathrooms and showed us where to find our meals three times a day, upstairs in the "eating room." We did all-day volunteer projects at other non-profits in the Baltimore area on two of the days, and visited and played games with the shelter's "guests" in the evenings.

We had time to visit the "Harbor," a newly developed commercial area at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in downtown Baltimore, made our own dance party on one night and made a day trip to Jonah House that is going to take another post to tell you about.

Check back for more "A Journey with the Brethren."