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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Baltimore to evict Camp 83

Camp_83-2

Several homeless people set up an encampment under an interstate overpass not far from Baltimore’s Housing Resource Center (HRC), the city’s biggest shelter. The city announced that it will evict Camp 83, as it’s known, on Friday, March 8 and arrest those who refuse to leave.

by Rob Brune

I visited Camp 83 for the first time yesterday evening. My old friend Beth from Occupy Baltimore greeted me. Supporters of the camp held signs opposing its eviction on March 8. At rush hour on a Wednesday, cars entering the ramp to I-83 honked in support.

Making my way into the camp, sandwiched between the I-83 ramp and the Baltimore City Central Booking building, I met Liam Dunaway. Liam is a student at a local college who has been researching the various homeless camps in Baltimore. He spoke of unhealthy conditions in the Baltimore Resource Housing Center (HRC) and challenges such as couples being split up. In contrast to the shelter, the homeless camp has provided a safer environment, according to Liam. Watch Liam’s explanation on live-stream.

Two students from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Catherine and Kate, were at the camp talking to a resident, Mellow, and others who were about to be evicted. Both Catherine and Kate are members of a student organization called Housing Our Neighbors. (@HONFORHOUSING)

Camp_83As I was about to leave, a helicopter hovered over the Baltimore Housing Resource Center, and then at least half a dozen Baltimore City Police squad cars pulled up. All the while, it was nice and quiet at Camp 83. It seemed to me like an enormous amount of taxpayer money was directed toward harassing the homeless community instead of serving them.

When I approached the city-run shelter there appeared to be six police officers standing over one cuffed male behind the building. An ambulance approached. The parking lot security officer chased me away before I could ask any questions of the police.

Advocates for the homeless will gather at the encampment, on the west side of the 800 block of the Fallsway (across from Central Booking), at 6:00 am on March 8th to prevent the planned eviction and/or to help move their belongings into housing.