On his way to church nearly every Sunday of late, Del. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore) has seen 150 or more homeless and hungry men, women and children standing patiently in line for soup and bread being given away by a Baltimore soup kitchen.
Today, Cummings, tired of watching without help to offer, and others began pushing for a $1 million program to set up more shelters and food programs for the homeless.
"It is easy for us to sit in our three-piece suits and silk blouses and dresses and turn our head, for many of these people don't vote," Cummings told his legislative colleagues today.
"But many of them do vote. Some once held a good government job and now have had the flooring on which their lives were built destroyed. We're asking that those who are without be protected."
The bill being proposed by Cummings, Del. Ruth Kirk (D-Baltimore) and six other delegates would increase taxes on either cigarettes or wine and use the proceeds to set up additional kitchens and shelters in the state's metropolitan areas, where existing facilities now frequently have more clients than they can handle.
The bill is expected to have trouble, however, because in this tight budget year, there is little room for new spending programs.
Also, Gov. Harry Hughes already has proposed raising taxes on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages to help offset a projected $133 million budget gap.
According to testimony presented to the House Ways and Means Committee today, a 1981 study of homeless women in Baltimore City estimated that some 5,000 women, accompanied by about 2,300 children, were then in need of shelter.
Dale Balfour, a lobbyist for the state Department of Human Resources which would oversee the proposed homeless program, said the Hughes administration "recognizes the need for this program" but opposes the bill for "budget reasons."