As we mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray and subsequent unrest in West Baltimore, here is an update on Catholic Charities’ work to meet community needs. Even prior to last April’s unrest, the agency provided behavioral health services in 23 schools in West Baltimore and 19 different community service programs, including employment, housing, case management and emergency services, that reached 2,415 of its residents.

Last year, Catholic Charities mobilized its resources and built on existing services in West Baltimore, overseeing an expansion of the Head Start programs to 15 sites – now serving nearly 700 families and children – up from 276 the previous year. Working with parishes, Catholic Charities now provides much-needed service at three food pantries – St. Edward’s, St. Gregory’s and St. Peter Claver – and now offers case management to pantry clients who need additional services.

The newly-opened St. Edward’s Workforce Development Center provides training for West Baltimore residents interested in careers as automotive and general service technicians. The employment center is operated by Catholic Charities’ Our Daily Bread Employment Center in partnership with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) and the One Baltimore for Jobs initiative and is funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to work with residents in West Baltimore, and to provide training that will help lead them to employment and greater stability,” said Penny Lewis, director of Our Daily Bread Employment Center. “It’s a creative way to help communities in Baltimore that are afflicted with high unemployment and poverty rates.”

Partnering with the Baltimore City Health Department, the No Boundaries Coalition and St. Peter Claver Parish, Catholic Charities launched Safe Streets Baltimore in February to curb violence on the streets of the Sandtown-Winchester community. Safe Streets Baltimore is a visible presence in this neighborhood that has been disproportionately affected by gun violence. Staff members interact with residents to identify potential perpetrators and victims of violence and to implement interceptive measures.

“After the unrest last April, I took time to reflect, listen and pray, and my colleagues did the same,” said Bill McCarthy, executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore. “We concluded that in order to bring about sustainable change in our community and in people’s lives, we needed to take a proactive role in reducing the epidemic violence and trauma that is plaguing many Baltimore neighborhoods. We believe Safe Streets is one way to help address this crisis.”

The Safe Streets program is located at St. Peter Claver Church on North Fremont Ave. Staff members include a program site director, violence prevention coordinator and four outreach workers. Funding is provided through the Baltimore City Health Department, with additional support from the Abell Foundation and the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Through our work at Catholic Charities, we help people improve their lives and make our community stronger,” Bill McCarthy added. “We look forward to working with our community partners and new colleagues to bring about transformational change to the neighborhood.”