The Story of a Struggle to Keep East Baltimore’s Men and Families Center Open

The Real News Network takes a look at the center’s efforts to overcome obstacles and continue to serve the community.

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Story Transcript

SHABRIA JOHNSON, JOURNALIST, TRNN: It’s been a long, arduous struggle to keep the Men’s Center in East Baltimore open. The vial community resource, which provides health services and employment was shut down on February 27th by a Baltimore City fire marshal. Two weeks later, supporters came out to show just how important it is.

MR. CASSELL, MEN AND FAMILIES CENTER: All I’m saying is this community, this center, I’ve been here since it opened. In the thick and the thin. From the bad to the worst. Our kids in the neighborhood. I mean, if we don’t help them, who else will help them?

PAMELA HARVEY, NEIGHBORHOOD NAVIGATOR, MEN AND FAMILIES CENTER: Since I’ve been on this job for the community, I think I’ve helped a lot of people in this community. As far as housing, or health insurance, or photo IDs, birth certificates.

LETTA GRANT, HEALTHCARE WORKER, JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL: It is definitely one of the few places you can go to get help in this city, especially this kind of help. Like, it’s not a lot of places you can go to get help getting a birth certificate.

NEIGHBORHOOD NAVIGATOR, MEN AND FAMILIES CENTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m one of the neighborhood navigators, and I’ve brought quite a few people — over a hundred people — to this center. Some of the people, they had problems in their homes. And then I signed them up, they came to the center, and they got help.

We can’t let them stop what we’re doing. We are out here for a cause. I know I’m walking with a cane, but I’m still doing my [work].

JOHNSON: Leon Purnell, the director of the Men and Families Center, spoke out at the conference.

LEON PURNELL, DIRECTOR, MEN AND FAMILIES CENTER: It’s not a good thing that we have to come here today. It’s kind of sad. On the 27th of February, we were presented by a fire marshal here, and he came in and he said he had received a call about code violations. We knew we had code violations, because we need renovations desperately.

JOHNSON: We contacted the fire department’s Office of Public Information and reached Captain Roman Clark. Clark stated, if there are life safety issues in an establishment, it can cause an inspector to shut the place down for the protection of those individuals in the establishment. The Real News did a walkthrough with Purnell to look at the fire code violations, such as light fixing, overcrowded furniture, uncovered stoves, and visible power cords.

PURNELL: And he also told us we need strike bars on the doors. I told him, I said, what good would that do? Our doors open in. so why would we put a strike bar on when we can’t open the door?

JOHNSON: We followed up with the Center to reexamine the fire code violations. They installed emergency exit lights and fire alarms, sold furniture to create walking space, removed the uncovered stove, and wrapped all power cords.

PURNELL: And about the doors. We’ll look at the possibility of having some doors that swing out, but it’s kind of difficult. With the traffic we have, doors swing out, you might hit somebody upside the head coming out. So you know, that’s something that we just have to examine and see if it’s practical.

JOHNSON: And finally in April, the Men and Families Center received some good news to allow it to reopen.

PURNELL: Today I represented the Center in a zoning board hearing, which we had to apply for a Use and Occupancy permit to continue to do what we do here at the center. The zoning board gave us a unanimous consent decree, which just means that we didn’t have to go through a hearing, and presenting any evidence. They just agreed that we should continue to have the Center open and use it for what we had, intentionally, had already been using it for.

JOHNSON: But amid the joy, one more hurdle still looms.

PURNELL: The one inspector that has been, the person who came in and shut us down, is on vacation till the middle of the month. And his lieutenant told me that it was his call to shut us down, and he doesn’t have any copies of the paperwork to come back out, or send somebody out to even look at what it is that they shut us down for. So that’s a dilemma that we still have to face.

JOHNSON: For more on this matter, tune in to the Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.