Closing encampments doesn't help anyone

In the footsteps of three public relations blunders — the clumsy firing of the police commissioner, city schools going without heat the first week of the new year, and one of our flagship hospitals kicking out a woman in freezing weather in nothing but her hospital gown and socks — now is not the time for the city to commit a fourth: destroying yet another homeless encampment without offering a real solution to homelessness.

As a commonsense Baltimore Sun editorial recommended, Mayor Catherine Pugh should delay the closing of the homeless encampment along Guilford Avenue (“Clearing out Baltimore's homeless — again,” Jan. 18). As The Sun pointed out, closing encampments doesn’t work. And there is no indication that the city’s proposal to offer the residents temporary “dormitory-style” shelter at an east-side facility will have a better chance of success. In fact, it’s more likely that closing the encampment will be yet another public relations disaster.

To put it bluntly, Baltimore needs to get its act together, and the first step should be to abandon the status quo by canceling the rash decision to close the Guilford Avenue encampment and instead offer a real solution to homelessness — permanent housing.

Too expensive, you say? Consider this: The city is budgeting $1.5 million to temporarily warehouse the 40 or so folks in the encampment. But if the city created a locally-funded housing voucher program, the cost would be approximately $650,000 to house 50 people for an entire year. Charlottesville just allocated $900,000 to house 100 to 120 households with locally funded vouchers. Baltimore should do the same.

The city needs to make cost effective and smarter decisions. It should fund the voter-approved Affordable Housing Trust Fund and create a locally-funded housing voucher program. Housing is the solution to homelessness, not the temporary warehousing of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Antonia F. Fasanelli, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project.

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