Volume XI, Issue 8 ~ February 20-26, 2003

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<Dock of the Bay>
<Letters to the Editor>
<Bay Reflections>
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<8 Days a Week>
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Dock of the Bay

Shelter from the Storm
‘Winter Relief’ Brings Homeless Men in from the Cold

Four days into the Presidents’ Day Blizzard, snow is still falling on top of the two feet already accumulated. No one at our house is going to school or work. We’re running low on hot chocolate and coffee. There are train tracks all over the living room floor, Playmobile all over the basement and boots drying in the shower.

At Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Severna Park, a different snow story has been unfolding. Twenty-eight cots strewn with personal belongings line the walls of the fellowship hall and spill over into the youth room. The church has lived up to its name for the last eight nights, providing sanctuary for 28 homeless men who would otherwise be out in the cold. Dave Newell, chief shepherd of the flock, is watching over the men who have been holed up, snowed in like the rest of us, for 60-some hours.

photo by Martha Blume
Young members of Our Shepherd Lutheran Church make sandwiches for Winter Relief shelter guests. From left, Shannon Washburn, Darcy Delph, Meg Williamson, Rebecca Wiles, Sam Degenhard and Dorian Delph.
For many of these 28 men, home for the months from November through April is the Winter Relief Rotating Homeless Shelter. The 11-year-old ministry of northern Anne Arundel County rotates among churches — 26 this year — from Glen Burnie in the north to Annapolis in the south. Churches open their doors, floors, showers, kitchens and hearts to provide not quite home but something like it. On any given night, the church hosting the Winter Relief Rotating Homeless Shelter takes in two dozen men.

Our Shepherd’s week ended on Presidents’ Day, but the men are still there, hoping to get out by afternoon on a bus bound for their next destination, Riva Trace Baptist in Annapolis.

Newell says he’s ready to get home and get a shower, but he’s “had a blast,” watching videos and eating food stored up in the kitchen. He says the men are “very appreciative of what we’re doing and they’re all chipping in, shoveling out the sidewalks and the parking lot.”

When they’re not snowed in, the men spend days at jobs, on the streets or in public places like libraries. Midday they gather at the Salvation Army intake center in Glen Burnie, where they are screened and must pass a Breathalyzer test to get a church cot for the night. Volunteers drive the men to the church of the week.

At 5:15 on the first night of Our Shepherd’s Relief Duty, kitchen coordinator Kathy Mikulski answered last-minute questions from volunteers about serving dinner — six chicken and rice casseroles warmed in the oven. Shelter coordinator Newell waited at the sign-in table for the guests to arrive.

Carol Heflebower consulted with Newell on several expected guests. Heflebower keeps case records on these men, who with no addresses are easily forgotten. As mom to a relatively stable group of about 19 who use the shelter regularly, she helps fill out forms for social services and social security benefits, make and keep doctors’ appointments, fill prescriptions and apply to substance-abuse programs. But this night she snuck out before the men arrived.

“If they see me they all come to me with their problems,” she said, laughing. “I’ll be back tomorrow night.”

At 5:30, the guests arrived.

The men spilled out of cars and into the warmth of the building, claiming their cots. Some came to the kitchen for snacks, others chose a video, some went out for a smoke. A sign notes Dinner 6:00/ Showers 7-8:00.

At 6pm, guests lined up cafeteria-style at the kitchen window for a dinner of chicken and rice, broccoli, salad and applesauce. The six casseroles disappeared quickly. Sandwiches to tide the men through a day in the cold were made by members of Our Shepherd Youth. Volunteer cooks, drivers and overnight chaperones mingled in the kitchen and with the men. Some men keep to themselves; others are eager to talk.

One 47-year-old tells a tale of woe about losing his business following a bout of illness. It’s his first year of homelessness. Diabetes and kidney troubles keep him from working, he says. He drinks, he says, “two to three times a month.”

Our Shepherd’s week brought cause for celebration when a baby girl was born to a man in the shelter. Wife and child will be living with his in-laws; he is not welcome there. The Winter Relief shelter does not accommodate women and families, though plans are underway to do so in the future.

“I have no place else to go but here,” says another homeless man with a voice tired and defeated beyond his 31 years. Emergency shelters coordinated by the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services are only available when temperatures fall below freezing. The Winter Relief Shelter and the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis are the only regular refuges open to “non-compliant” men, as those are called who are not in alcohol- or drug-treatment programs.

“These men can be drunk on Wednesday, but sober on Thursday and get a church cot Thursday night,” says Phil Bailey, director of The Winter Relief Shelter since 1997.

Bailey says addiction problems are the primary reason for homelessness. Add to that mental illness, physical disabilities, job loss and family and situational reasons. Most people who find themselves homeless have a combination of problems. But, says Bailey, the face of homelessness is changing from the traditional image of guys lying on a city grate to people who can no longer afford rent in an exploding housing market.

Christine Poulsen, special assistant to the director at Department of Social Services, agrees. “There is a critical need of low-income housing and SROs — single room occupancies — for single adults who don’t need apartments. And the future doesn’t look better,” she says.

Newell, who takes a week’s vacation every year to coordinate the shelter at Our Shepherd, says he worries that “people aren’t as concerned as they should be for the welfare of their fellow man.” Like his father, a retired Lutheran pastor who organized Meals on Wheels in his hometown, Newell believes that service to others epitomizes what it means to be a Christian.

The Winter Relief Homeless Shelter is administered by an umbrella organization called the Arundel House of Hope Inc., which is operated by participating churches. Information? 443/286-2431• [email protected].

— Martha Blume

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Admiral of the Chesapeake Vincent Leggett
Preserving the Stories of Blacks on the Bay

Vincent O. Leggett became an admiral this month, an Admiral of the Chesapeake. The cultural historian earned his rank “for bringing to light the achievements of the African American community in the maritime industry.”

Leggett’s commission was the last bestowed by former Gov. Parris Glendening, who used the honorary title liberally to reward and encourage environmental achievements. It was conferred by Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates Michael Busch at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast at Anne Arundel Community College.

When the thunderous applause of more than 600 celebrants finally ended, Leggett said “I never crabbed or fished, but I tried to tell the stories of the men and women who served the Bay. I thank them.”

photo © by Diane Diamond
Newly appointed Admiral of the Chesapeake Vincent Leggett.
Leggett, 49, joins a long line of Admirals of the Chesapeake, each honored for service of one sort or another to the great Bay. Some were watermen in their own right, like Earl White (1998) and Clyde Watson (1990). Others devoted their lives to the Bay’s well-being by other means. Marion Warren (1999) is the signature Bay photographer. Water Harris (2000) is an environmental educator and farmer. Glenn Morris Jr. and JoAnn Burkholder (1997) are microbiologists who documented pfisteria in the Bay. Scientist Eugene Cronin (1996) studied the blue crab and spurred the drive to restore the Bay. John Kabler (1996) was an activist whose organizing skills pushed restoration into political reality. Mick Blackistone (1993) is a writer who brings the Bay to children and who documents the lives of watermen.

A former teacher with Anne Arundel and Baltimore City public schools and Anne Arundel Community College, Leggett now works as special projects coordinator in the Office of Education, Bay Policy and Growth Management at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. But his life work has been researching, documenting and writing about the contributions of African Americans to the maritime and seafood industries.

Leggett is a native son. Growing up in Baltimore, he loved studying explorers, but the absence of African Americans in the curriculum frustrated him. Harriet Tubman became his hero as he learned about Chesapeake Bay as a route of the Underground Railroad.

In 1984, Leggett founded the Blacks of the Chesapeake Project, and in 1999 he became the president of Blacks on the Chesapeake Foundation, a nonprofit historical, cultural and environmental organization dedicated to sharing the legacy of African American achievement, fostering the preservation of the Bay and facilitating the economic success of the Bay maritime trade and seafood industries. In 2000, his foundation received the Local Legacy Award presented by the United States Congress and the Library of Congress.

Last year, Leggett helped establish the Chesapeake Bay Ecology Center, housed at the Anne Arundel County Learning Center at Adams Park in Annapolis.

Leggett, who now sometimes hears himself called by his honorary title, says the rank validates his 20-year odyssey to bring light to the achievements of blacks on the Bay. “You’re not sure of your course along the way; you’re not sure where your dream will carry you,” he said.

The newest admiral says the rank carries no special privileges, but he hopes it will inspire others to remain faithful to their dreams. “Great things can come of it,” he said. He also hopes it will bring credibility and attention to his work.

Leggett is presenting his current research project, Chesapeake Underground: Charting a Course Toward Freedom, across the state and hopes to see it published this December. Two previous books are Blacks of the Chesapeake: An Integral Part of Maritime History (1997) and The Chesapeake Bay Through Ebony Eyes (1999). A curriculum he developed is studied by students in Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County and Prince Georges County school systems.

Leggett is on the board of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the Richardson Museum in Cambridge and the Living Classroom Foundation of Baltimore.

“I’m elated,” said the new admiral. “It’s my highest personal achievement in the field of the environment. To have the award presented at the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast,” he added, “makes the connection between environmental justice, civil rights and protection of the Bay. All three come together for me.”

— Martha Blume

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What Will Become of Annapolis Neck?
County Council Vote Will Shape the Peninsula’s Future

You have to be a glutton for punishment to sit through a five-hour Anne Arundel County Council meeting. But on February 3, more than 300 people did just that, and come Monday, February 24, many will be ready to do it again.

The reason for such dedication is the Annapolis Neck Small Area Plan. Five years in the making, the citizen-authored plan outlines the next two decades of regional development for the heavily populated peninsula (or neck) bordered by the Severn River, the South River and Chesapeake Bay.

So many people crammed into the Arundel Center in downtown Annapolis to speak and observe at the February 3 hearing on the plan that the county fire marshal posted four officers at the council chambers entrance to deny admission or re-entry. Inside, those who couldn’t find seats lined the walls, stood in the doorways and sat in the aisles.

Click on the image above to see the full-size map.
Council chairwoman Cathleen Vitale said more than 70 people had signed up to speak, but since council rules prohibit doing business after midnight, only 58 were heard. More than a third of them wanted to see the small area plan changed to accurately reflect the document the volunteer-citizen committee submitted to the county more than three years ago. The citizen plan was reviewed and revised by the county department of planning and zoning.

“We don’t want the small area plan passed until several of the recommendations deleted are restored,” said Joan Bell, a committee member. “They are not trivial changes. They are changes of substance, meaning and specificity.”

Another contingent came to speak out on the construction of a mixed-use development along the north side of Bestgate Road. The 100 or so supporters&Mac226; wore hard-to-miss yellow buttons proclaiming “I support the Village at Bestgate.” About 150 residents from Annapolis Neck and Crownsville answered with white buttons bearing a red circle with a line crossing out the words “The Village at Bestgate.” That contingent wants to keep the 54-acre plot residential.

Since the February 24 meeting promises a council vote on both the Bestgate development and the small area plan as a whole, interested citizens should get to the council chambers early — or plan on bringing a pair of comfortable shoes.

— Gary Starikoff

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Way Downstream …

In windy Western Maryland, the skyscape may soon change as a result of a decision last week by the state Public Service Commission, which approved a California company’s plan to erect more than 60 huge, three-bladed windmills on top of Backbone Mountain in Garrett County. Clipper Windpower won approval after agreeing to take steps to limit the death of birds flying into the blades …

In Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner is calling 2003 the Year of Natural Areas for her state. Conservationists hope the designation can help them beef up Delaware’s Natural Areas Inventory with more wetlands, streams and tracts of unbroken green spaces …

In Hong Kong, authorities weren’t amused by a company’s inadvertent attempt to make shrimp salad in the Shing Mun River. A food importer was fined nearly $2,000 for washing 20 gallons of salad dressing into the river after a spill, the Associated Press reported …

Our Creature Feature comes from Germany, where a pet eel named Aalfred became a celebrity after reports that he has lived in a bathtub for 33 years. But animal rights activists complained that Aalfred (which means eel in German) was being mistreated, even though he was moved to a bucket when his hosts, the Richter family, took a bath.

A vet dispatched to investigate described Aalfred as fat and happy, albeit lighter in color than his cousins in the wild. The family, apparently unhappy at suggestions of abuse, placed an arm-length pipe in the tub to give Aalfred a place to cuddle up.

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Last updated February 20, 2003 @ 2:13am