Homeless in Baltimore

Photo Source: Rousseau_ist

Advocates for the homeless converged on City Hall on Wednesday night to discuss the future of the “Journey Home” plan to end homelessness. The occasion was a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, stating simply “That the Council calls on the City and external agencies concerned with homeless in Baltimore to appear before it to discuss the status of and proposals for any revisions to Baltimore City’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.” Many of those who testified criticized a recent draft of the plan, as well as the process behind its production and implementation. Others used the forum to discuss Baltimore’s homelessness crisis and the City’s aggressive policy of evicting outdoor encampments.

Clients form a line in the rear parking lot of the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center shelter waiting to get a bed. Photo by Dan Staples.

Actions speak louder than words. The words say “75 journeys home” for people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore. But what do the actions say? You might assume, as we did, that 75 journeys home means that the city has allocated new funding for 75 new apartments. You might think that funding for new housing vouchers is great news. However, at last count, over 4,000 people sleep on Baltimore’s streets each night. “75 Journeys Home” is less than 2% of the people who desperately need housing, but better than nothing.

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Members of the Baltimore City Council held an investigative hearing yesterday regarding allegations of gender discrimination and intimidation at the new City-funded homeless shelter, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (HRC). The hearing comes just ten days after City police forcefully removed over 300 students and advocates from staging an overnight “sleep-out” in front of City Hall to raise awareness about homelessness, despite being allowed to do so in previous years.

Right off the large main lobby of Healthcare for the Homeless in downtown Baltimore, there is a small, tile-floored room with folding tables and plastic stackable chairs. Offering some small respite from the loud TVs and chatter of dozens of people in the main lobby, the room reminds me of a school classroom.

On a hot August morning, I sat down with James Crawford at a table in the apartment building where he lives on North Avenue. I had first called him less than 24 hours before, and he had told me to come see him the next morning at eleven. As we sat alone in a large room full of chairs, tables, and couches, in what I guessed was the lobby of the apartment building, I asked him about his work for Bmore Housing For All (BHFA), an activist organization of currently or formerly homeless people and their allies in which he is an active member.

On Monday October 24th, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) sent a letter to Baltimore Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, demanding intervention in the discriminatory and illegal denial of overflow shelter beds to homeless women at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing and Resource Center. Currently, only homeless men are provided with additional beds at another location once the 250-bed shelter is full.

On the northwest corner of The Fallsway and Centre Street in downtown Baltimore City, there used to sit an inconspicuous brick warehouse that housed offices for the City's Department of Transportation. Earlier this year, however, a new banner appeared above one of the corrugated metal garage doors that proclaimed, “Future Home of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing and Resource Center.” The banner included a computer-generated image of a shiny new building overlooking The Fallsway on an idyllic sunny day. This old warehouse would be transformed into a dedicated year-round 24-hour homeless shelter, meant to replace the old derelict shelter on Guilford Avenue.

Baltimore has never been a model city for addressing urban homelessness. From the old Oasis shelter that was closed shortly after a female client was sexually assaulted, to the city's first year-round 24-hour shelter, dubbed Code Blue, that had conditions described as “shocking for a First World country”, Baltimore's growing homeless population is continually neglected and underserved.

As people gathered into a large room on the third floor of a University of Maryland Medical Center building on June 14th, there were a lot of friendly conversations and familiar greetings among those in attendance. It was clear that this was a group of people where many folks already knew each other, both professionally and personally.

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