Rose Street Community Center
Eight years ago, three African American men and one
African American woman, with family members who grew up in East
Baltimore, decided that they could no longer tolerate the drug dealing
and violence that was destroying their community. They began their
work on Luzerne and Madison streets, enlisting young people to help
them in beautifying vacant lots. They partnered with Fairmount-Harford
High School and the Parks and People Foundation to operate summer
enrichment educational programs. They also designed an outdoor educational
display on African-American history. More importantly, they began
a "street-corner ministry," establishing a physical presence
on the corner of Rose Street and Ashland Avenue, a notorious open-air
In 1998, they took over a vacant house on Rose Street, partially renovated it, and opened the Rose Street Community Center as the base of their operations. As a result of their work and their effective assistance to the Baltimore City Police Department, several of the community's drug dealers burned the center down in May 1999. Undeterred, the members of the community center pitched a tent on the corner of Rose and Ashland, and began a 24-7 vigil. They worked in 12-hour shifts, and after six months of making their presence known in the community, not only did their neighbors start paying attention, the neighborhood drug dealers began listening to them, with some dealers even deciding to go to the center for help.
In 1999, the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition gave the Rose Street Community Center two adjoining row houses, at 819 and 821 Rose Street, right next door to the center that was burned down. At the new community center, Clayton Guyton and Elroy "Chris" Christopher staff the center and work with people of all ages by building a trusting relationship, identifying their interests and aspirations, and encouraging them to work hard and contribute to the community. They work with young people who have dropped out of school to reconnect them to a learning environment, either by re-enrolling them in school or enrolling them in a GED program. They work with adult residents who must complete court-ordered community service by cleaning up the neighborhood. Rose Street staff also counsel these residents to get their lives back on track by getting a job and completing their high school education. The Rose Street Community Center offers transitional housing to a small group of ex-offenders who need a place to stay, meeting with them daily to motivate them to become productive citizens. In addition to these services, the center also provides a safe space for over 80 children of the neighborhood, offering snacks, homework assistance and tutoring, and the support of caring adults.
Since February 2000, with help from The Abell Foundation,
the Rose Street Community Center has provided services to hundreds
of residents, offering them small weekly stipends (no more than
$10 a day) to help them to pursue education and training. Rose Street
staff closely monitor their participation and believe that this
level of daily contact keeps people connected to the community center.
In 2005, Rose Street served approximately 70 people
each week. A third of those served each week (25 to 30 men)
reside in Rose Street’s five transitional houses.
Rose Street staff link them to employment training, and once they
have secured employment for three to six months, Rose Street staff
assist them in obtaining permanent housing.
About 80 percent of the men residing in the transitional
houses attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings. As they gain employment,
they may choose to remain in Rose Street's supportive, familial
environment. For these men, Rose Street has created permanent housing
following the Oxford House model: They agree to govern themselves
but still attend nightly group meetings; pay for their own rent,
utilities, and food; and remain drug-free or risk expulsion from
the house. Two of Rose Street's four transitional houses use this
model. Rose Street continues to identify other properties so that
graduates can remain connected to the neighborhood.
There is a wealth of anecdotal data indicating that
the program is working: Residents are being linked to employment
and drug treatment; and the streets surrounding Rose Street and
Patterson Park are remaining clear of trash and debris (Rose Street
removes roughly 12 tons of trash from the neighborhood each week).
The neighborhood clean-ups are beginning to have a lasting effect
as neighbors join in cleaning streets and alleyways, and Rose Street
work crews now tackle cluttered yards. The people served by the
center often are labeled as being hard to employ and hard to serve.
Almost all have criminal records, and most have not earned a high
school diploma or GED. Efforts are underway to determine whether
Rose Street participants are less likely to recidivate than other
ex-offenders returning to Baltimore. If Rose Street staff can connect
their recruits to effective job training and GED programming, their
outreach model could be replicated in other neighborhoods.