When the city offered Dale Davis a place to stay, it sounded like a good idea. It was last December and Davis had been homeless since the previous February, staying mostly under an overpass on Guilford Avenue. There were about 30 people there, he says, who took the city up on the offer, and since the end of December he has had his own room at a Quality Inn on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn, near the Beltway.
Davis is 29, originally from Pigtown. He says he moved away to New York, got married, had a kid, and worked construction in the Catskills. It didn't work out, and Davis ended up back in Baltimore, where an outstanding warrant on drug charges landed him in jail. After he got out, he says, he was on the streets.
If he had it to do over again, Davis says he would have stayed there, rather than heading to the Quality Inn. Until recently, the city provided food for the homeless residents of the hotel, via a catering service, for lunch and dinner. Dinner stopped a few weeks ago, and lunch stopped coming on Sunday. Since then, Davis has been living off the continental breakfast at the Quality Inn. He's been on the phone with the city Department of Housing trying to find out what's going on.
Reginald Scriber, the department's deputy commissioner for community services, says that the city has been providing subsidized meals for the residents at the hotel, but that all but a handful of them have found employment and can get their own meals.
Davis says he was employed when he was homeless and had money saved in a bank account, but that the city required him to be available to fill out forms for Section 8 housing vouchers and other services, so he was unable to keep his job. Davis says he appreciates what's been done—he's scheduled to receive a key to his own apartment later this week and is enrolled in a trade school to learn the building trades—but in the meantime, he's hungry. He's been wearing the same clothes for two weeks, and his laundry piles up in the corner of his otherwise neat room. Officials with city Homeless Services say the homeless residents of the hotel have been given monthly bus passes, which Davis denies. He says he's cut off from the network of services he used in the city and the day-labor agencies that he worked for. A few weeks ago, he says, the hotel turned the homeless residents' lights out because the city didn't pay the bills.
Mary Terry, the hotel's general manager, confirms that she turned off the electricity to the rooms for a few hours, in an effort to get the city to pay up. Terry says she was frustrated by the city's lack of response to the unpaid bill, but that when the power went off, a check was quickly cut for part of the money.
Terry calls up a bill totaling more than $100,000 on the computer screen in her office. She says less than half of that has been paid by the city. Terry knew that the catered food stopped coming to the hotel but assumed the residents were being fed elsewhere. She says the situation explains the unusually long line for the continental breakfast the hotel provides for guests.
Scriber says the city has paid its bills.
"Whatever the Quality Inn is due, the city will take care of it," he said on Thursday.
Terry's story, he says, is "not true at all. They wanted a check faster than the city could pay them." Of the incident with the electricity, Scriber says he heard about it, but believes a light pole went down in the neighborhood, and the area was without power for a while. BGE was unable to confirm a power outage in the area of the hotel.
Scriber says meals are currently being arranged by the Homeless Services of the city Health Department, and that the homeless residents of the hotel are being fed.
"Keep in mind," he says, "they do get a continental breakfast."
Scriber refers questions about the current meal plan to Diane Glauber, head of Homeless Services for the city.
Glauber said Thursday that her office was working to find another caterer to provide meals, and that by Thursday afternoon the residents would be fed. She says her office moved quickly, as soon as it was notified that the catering contract had run out.
Glauber says the meal stoppage was a glitch in an otherwise exemplary program, as the homeless residents of the hotel stayed longer than anticipated while the city found housing for them. She and Homeless Services' Greg Sileo, who has been working with the hotel residents, say they found out at the last minute that the catering contract was running out, although neither could say exactly when they learned of the problem. Davis says he has been in daily contact with Scriber's office trying to resolve the problem.
City officials all say that the meal stoppage was temporary and that, overall, the program had been a success under difficult time constraints. The homeless encampment on Guilford Avenue was a danger, they say, and Davis confirms that the move occurred after a homeless man set a fire to keep warm. Most of the residents, the city says, will be moved into more permanent Section 8 housing within the week, and Davis confirms that he has received a housing voucher and expects to get his key this week. Glauber and Sileo say they are working to get furniture for the apartments once residents are moved in.
"We are extremely pleased on the comprehensive effort the city has put forth," Scriber says. "It's been one of the most positive things the city has done in a long time."