Rally for Homeless marches through Towson to lobby council

Dozens of Baltimore County's homeless and the advocates who aim to help them gathered Monday evening in Towson to raise awareness on the issue of homelessness and lobby for support from the County Council.

The 10th annual Rally for the Homeless, began and ended at Calvary Baptist Church on West Pennsylvania Avenue, and in between walked across the street to County Council chambers where participants spoke to members after a council meeting.

The rally, sponsored by the Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless (BCCH), was meant to "encourage the County Council just to be generous to the homeless," organizer Joseph Sanders said.

"It's a real issue," Sue Bull, homeless services coordinator for the Baltimore County Department of Planning, said. "A lot of people talk about it being a city issue, not a county issue — but it is a county issue."

According to Bull, who said her department keeps track of data on the county's homeless, around 550 people spend the night at emergency, transition and domestic violence shelters across the county.

Each year, about 6,000 individuals will spend a night in a shelter, Bull said, and according to the most recent county homeless census taken in January, between 200 and 300 people are living on the streets.

The Planning Department receives money from the county, state and federal governments; and distributes it to outreach organizations. While some do provide temporary assistance, advocates stressed that permanent solutions were necessary to get the county's homeless off the streets faster.

Sanders, the president of the BCCH board, said the organization is one of the largest homeless advocacy groups in the county.

When there was a chance for the public to ask questions after the council meeting, advocates from all across the county urged the council to help those in need. 

Sherrie Watts, a resident at a YWCA shelter in Arbutus, urged the community to welcome shelters like hers into their midst.

Watts said shelters can make good neighbors and residents "strive for the best, because we've been places that none of you ever have."

After the council meeting, the group marched back across Pennsylvania Avenue for a meal and more networking at the church. Advocates marched in purple shirts, while the homeless wore red, with the words "homeward bound" written across their backs.

"That's our motto," Sanders said. "It pushes the idea that just because you're in a shelter, you are homeward bound. (The shelter) is not your last stop. Everyone has a right to affordable housing." 

That support was welcome among the participants, Sanders said. He drove a van full of people to the rally from a shelter at Franklin Square Hospital.

"All the way here, they expressed their gratitude for the support they're getting," Sanders said.

Council President Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, said after the meeting that the efforts of those who organized and participated in the rally did not go unnoticed.

"This is a County Council that really does care, and we're listening," Quirk said.

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