Baltimore City Government: Stop treating homeless like trash

Baltimore City Council, March 4, 2012
Baltimore City Council, March 4, 2012

by Rob Brune

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Council are treating human beings like trash. They’re about to raze the third encampment of homeless along the Jones-Falls Expressway, just like they’re sweeping out the trash.

Most of the fifteen people at Camp 83 will have nowhere else to go if the City “cleans up” on Friday as it has promised.

Yesterday, Baltimore City Council had an opportunity to treat the residents of Camp 83 with a little bit of dignity but passed it up. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution with two options: either to postpone the eviction of the camp by three months or provide alternative temporary housing for the residents until permanent housing can be arranged. About thirty advocates for the homeless showed up in support of the resolution.

Council shuffled the resolution into a Housing Committee hearing on Thursday, and for several reasons the postponement makes it dead in the water. First of all, with an impending snowstorm the hearing may not even take place. Secondly, according to Councilwoman Clarke, she doesn’t have the votes to pass the resolution in committee. And thirdly, according to Bonnie Lane of Housing Our Neighbors, even if passed by the Housing Committee, the resolution wouldn’t come before the full Council again until April.

There are reasons that many of the homeless avoid the shelters. With impossible hours and challenging conditions, the City’s shelters are less welcoming than the streets. Many prefer to sleep in the cold than endure loud, crowded shelters where their belongings will be stolen and they may contract communicable diseases as serious as tuberculosis. Some even allege that shelter staff have sexually assaulted them.

“The shelters have failed them,” says Bonnie Lane of advocacy group Housing Our Neighbors.

A big snowstorm is on the way. Normally the police give the homeless two options when storms of this magnitude come through the city. They can go either to a shelter or to a jail cell. Under the pretense of the residents’ safety, there’s a possibility that residents of Camp 83 could be forced out as soon as tonight when the storm hits.

In his response to the City’s rationale for clearing out the homeless along Jones-Falls Expressway, Jeff Singer, former CEO of Healthcare for the Homeless, points out a historic parallel. In the early 20th century, Mayor James Preston declared Gallows Hill a “health and safety hazard” based solely on the fact that African-Americans lived there. Their homes were condemned and Preston Gardens built in their place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has declared Camp 83 a health and safety hazard too.

It’s only right that we stand up for the little guy, the weak and most vulnerable. Only a handful of homeless and affordable housing advocates are standing up for the homeless at Camp 83, which could be the third such camp swept away by the City in two months. The people there don’t deserve to be kicked to the curb. Tell Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to stop this eviction and place Charlie, Venus, Rich and all the rest in temporary housing until we can get them in homes of their own.

You can reach Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office at 410-396-4900.

Video of Baltimore City Council hearing on Resolution 13-0097R that didn’t happen:

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Trial opens for District housing advocates arrested at Franklin School

Photo by Associated Press

A jury was selected and the government delivered its opening statement on the first day of trial of six activists arrested for unlawful entry of the Franklin School almost eight months ago. While the defense has yet to make its opening statement, the crux of the trial may hinge on rights of property owners versus use of public property for the public interest. The jury may also hear a great deal about the state of housing and the homeless in the District.

On the afternoon of November 19, 2011 a large black banner was unfurled from the roof of the Franklin School, also known as Franklin Shelter, and a large crowd gathered on the street. The banner said, “Public Property Under Community Control.” Thirteen activists, affiliated with a group called Free Franklin DC, had allegedly broken into the school, formerly a homeless shelter on 13th St. in Downtown DC, and made their way to the roof through a skylight.

In his opening statement, government prosecutor Adam Dinnell sought to persuade the jury that the trial was about the rights of property owners and “whether they want people on their property or not.” The government of Washington, DC owns the building. He stressed that the trial was not about social issues, political issues or “whether the DC government has made good or bad decisions” regarding the use of Franklin School.

Gabriel Bernstein of Free Franklin DC responded to the prosecutor’s opening statement by saying, “Public property is different than a private home. Government is accountable to the people.” He also criticized the District for its handling of the Franklin School. “[The District] attempt[ed] to  claim the shelter as ‘surplus,’ ignoring public petitions. The government has not been responsive to the people it serves. And to simply make it parallel to a private home reduces government to a [mere] property owner.”

Free Franklin DC seeks to utilize the historic building for public use and ties its abandonment to larger problems of housing and homelessness in the District. In a statement released last November, it said:

The Franklin School building, owned by the city, has been vacant since late September 2008 when the DC government closed the homeless shelter that was housed there right before the beginning of hypothermia season. Despite promises that all of the residents would be given permanent housing, the majority wound up in other over-crowded shelters away from downtown, far from physical and mental health care and other needed services, or were put out onto the street. Three years later the city continues to break its promises to house and shelter DC residents, under-funding housing and shelter programs, including cutting $3 million from services for DC’s 6,500 homeless individuals and $20 million for affordable housing last year alone. The DC government refuses to ensure the most basic human right to housing for everyone in our community.

The trial is scheduled to continue in DC Superior Court at least through July 11.

Occupy Our Homes, low-income tenants object to development plan in Alexandria

Children of members of Tenants and Workers United play outside Alexandria City Council meeting

Occupy Our Homes DC joined with Tenants and Workers United to voice their objections to a proposed development plan which could eradicate 2,400 units of affordable housing in Alexandria, VA.

The Beauregard Small Area Plan was on the agenda for Alexandria’s City Council meeting on May 12.

Alexandria City Council

(Photos by coolrevolution.net)

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