A men's overflow center was relocated this summer from a building on Davis Street to an old school building on Sinclair Lane. It's a temporary fix, until a new facility, a former halfway house on East Monument Street, opens early next year. The move to Monument Street is expected to improve the available accommodations, but won't add any new bed space.
Daymon Bittings, a homeless man who waited in line outside the Weinberg Center on a recent November night, said he once watched a man pick parasites off his clothes and flick them across the room of the overflow shelter.
"I was very upset," he said. "I have grandkids. I'm not going to go hug my grandchildren after that."
He wants the overflow center, operated by the Baltimore Station, to require residents to delouse before sleeping there.
Kate Briddell, director of homeless services in the Mayor's Office of Human Services, said the facility is clean, even if the men in it aren't always. She said requiring delousing would violate residents' civil liberties. The shelter does offer showers, but only about a third of the 135 who sleep there each night take one, Baltimore Station officials said.
Michael Seippe, Baltimore Station's executive director, said the school building is an improvement from the Davis Street shelter, and that while it would need renovations to be used as an overflow shelter permanently, the facilities are adequate.
Some homeless people continue to avoid shelters. A handful opt to sleep each night on the steps at Health Care for the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides a range of services. That's where busses from the Sinclair Lane overflow shelter drop off the men each morning. It's a half-mile from there back to the Weinberg Center.
"I don't know how much longer I can do it," Bittings said, adding that some people are making the decision not to go to the shelters. "I've seen the tents going up under the bridge."
The city has long touted temporary shelters as an alternative to outdoor encampments like "Camp 83," a group living in tents under the expressway. City officials cleared the camp earlier this year, claiming it was hazardous to those who lived there.
But the tents have begun to crop up again alongside the Madison Street JFX on-ramp. Briddell said the city is "aware of" some homeless people returning to the area and is planning a meeting in the coming days discuss what to do about it.
Since Catholic Charities took over, the Weinberg Center has helped move as many as 20 people into permanent housing, said Christine Kay, the group's associate administrator. In addition to its 275 beds, the main shelter takes in another 60 people, who sleep on mats in its day rooms, between Nov. 15 and March 15. Catholic Charities' philosophy is that homelessness should be a "rare and brief experience."
As he waited in line for a bus to the overflow center, Bittings, 48, surveyed the group huddled in the cold in the Weinberg parking lot. He said some of these folks will be in this situation for life — "lifers," he calls them — but he's not one of them.
"It's a hell of a situation," Bittings said. "The quicker I can get out of it, the better."
Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this story.