Pugh puts price on fighting Baltimore homelessness: $350 million

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has put a price tag on the fight against homelessness in the city: $350 million.

The mayor gave the figure Wednesday as she released a plan developed by the task force she appointed to address homelessness. The panel called for “substantial increases in public and private investment” stressing that “permanent housing” is “the key solution.”

Pugh said she plans to begin raising money from the private sector to fund housing for thousands of people without homes.

“It really is about creating homes for the homeless. I think what we’ve not done is talk about what that costs,” she said. “If you were to ask me what’s the cost of ending homelessness in Baltimore? That’s $350 million dollars.”

The task force reported that more than 2,600 people experience homelessness on any given night in Baltimore.

The nine-member panel, which met during the spring and summer, recommended requiring affordable housing units in market-rate developments, prohibiting landlords from discriminating against renters who use government subsidies, investing in eviction-prevention resources and increasing the capacity of emergency shelters.

The panel said efforts against homelessness in Baltimore are largely funded by the federal government, which typically provides more than $20 million a year. Baltimore contributes about $10 million to combating homelessness, city officials said.

“We wil not end homelessness with our current level of public and private investment and our over-dependence on federal funds,” the panel said.

Pugh said she plans to hire a director to work on the issue.

“I want to really lay out the cost," she said, “and take it to the business community, the philanthropic community.”

Terry Hickey, the director of Baltimore's human services agency, said the city would invest “significant” resources into outreach to the homeless and rapid rehousing services.

“We’re looking at our budgeting process and what we can add,” Pugh said. “People want to be helpful, but they need to see the change they’re investing in.”

Pugh’s task force was chaired by Tina Hike-Hubbard. Other members were Damien Haussling, Jeff Hettleman, Tomi Hiers, Amy Kleine, Kevin Lindamood, Ingrid Lofgren, Janice Miller and Molly Tierney.

In August, Baltimore officials bused 55 people experiencing homelessness from a makeshift tent city in front of City Hall to a temporary shelter in West Baltimore.

Pugh said Wednesday that about 40 people remain at the shelter.

Kenneth Gwee, president of the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized the tent city, said just two people at the shelter have received permanent housing.

Others, he said, left to go back on the streets.

“It’s been a blown opportunity to do something amazing,” he said. “I’m at the point of labeling it almost a disaster. We had so much hope in our eyes. We thought this was going to the be different.”

As for Pugh’s performance addressing homelessness, Gwee said he hasn’t seen fewer people on the streets or more resources coming from the city.

“You can measure homelessness in numbers. Based off those numbers, there’s a ton of work that needs to be done,” Gwee said.

Christina Flowers, an advocate for the homeless, said she was “terribly disappointed” with the mayor’s plan. Flowers argued it is too focused on a long-term vision and lacks urgency.

She said she would have to walk down the street from City Hall to tell people sleeping in tents that no help was coming.

“It’s not a plan," she said. “There was no urgency, no plan.”

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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