Advertisement
Baltimore City

Baltimore officials seek housing for homeless people who set up encampment this week outside City Hall

After advocates and people experiencing homelessness erected an encampment outside Baltimore City Hall early Wednesday morning to demand city action on homelessness, city officials promised to find shelter for more than two dozen people before the weekend, activists said Thursday.

Organizers with the Black Community Development Coalition placed red tents on the grassy square in front of the City Hall steps at 4 a.m. Wednesday, with plans to stay until their demands were met.

Advertisement

Late Thursday afternoon activists said representatives of Mayor Brandon Scott had agreed to find shelters, transitional programs or hotel rooms for about 28 homeless people who arrived Wednesday morning.

James Bentley, Scott’s spokesman, said city staff have been conducting outreach to people at the encampment and will be reviewing a list of the individuals to connect them to services. However, Bentley said finding shelter spaces for all of them before the weekend was not guaranteed.

Advertisement

Yolanda Pulley, executive director of People Empowered by the Struggle, said Thursday that the activists planned to remove the 20 tents outside City Hall once the “ground zero” group of people were in safe locations. The encampment likely will be gone before the mayor is scheduled to host a back-to-school event there Saturday, Pulley said.

The activists’ list of 12 demands included supportive permanent housing, a safe discharge plan for people leaving hotels and shelters, and a pilot program to address chronic homelessness.

Pulley said that People Empowered by the Struggle and organizations in the Black Community Development Coalition will keep discussing those longer-term goals with the city.

“It’s a win, but the war is not over,” she said.

This is not the first time advocates have set up a tent city as a demonstration. In 2017, protesters spent 10 days in red tents outside City Hall before Mayor Catherine Pugh agreed to move 55 people into transitional housing.

Curtis Jackson has been living on the streets of Baltimore for eight years, at times staying in the city’s shelters. The 32-year-old showed up early Wednesday because he wants elected officials to do more to provide housing for Baltimoreans like him. He was still outside City Hall more than 12 hours later.

“No one should be left out. Everybody deserves a house, a home,” Jackson said. “Most of the time, I stay on the street because the shelters aren’t comfortable and most shelters aren’t clean.”

Christina Flowers, founder of Belvedere Real Care Providers Network, said advocates want the city to fund more supportive housing with wraparound services, rather than just providing hotel rooms.

Advertisement

“You’ve got to be kind of radical like this so they can realize how hurt people are,” Flowers said.

Since the coalition set up the encampment, she said, Baltimore city officials agreed to meet Thursday to discuss their concerns.

“What I would like to see happen now is for our mayor to deal with our unsheltered, chronically homeless people,” she said.

The Board of Estimates recently approved funding for the first of five projects proposed by the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services this year to bolster Baltimore’s emergency housing capacity. The first project, Housing Navigation and Landlord Recruitment Support, is meant to shorten periods of homelessness and increase access to safe, affordable housing, spokeswoman Kyana Underwood said in a statement Thursday.

Underwood said that as of Aug. 12, the city had rehoused 688 households in target groups such as youth and veterans under a federal House America goal to rehouse 1,000 Baltimore households in 2022.

In February, there were 1,597 people in Baltimore in emergency shelter, unsheltered or transitional housing, according to the city’s most recent “point-in-time” count, an annual census required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that estimates the number of people who are homeless at a given time.

Advertisement
Breaking News Alerts

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

Although that number is a 27% decrease from 2020, the last year the count was held, the point-in-time count was conducted differently in 2022 than in years past. It was held in January instead of February and took place in a single night instead of combining two nights and three days of site-based counts.

About one-fifth of those counted this year are considered chronically homeless, meaning they have a disabling condition and have been continuously homeless for at least a year.

One of Jackson’s chief concerns about shelters is the close quarters.

“It’s still COVID and it’s monkeypox going on, so who wants to be crawling around with a bunch of men and women?” he said.

Flowers said one man arrived at the demonstration Wednesday morning having tested positive for COVID. His tent was moved away from the others until an ambulance was called.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced in February that the city would spend more than $90 million on emergency housing, about $75 million of it from federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Advertisement

Two of the recently announced American Rescue Plan Act grants to nonprofits from the city will go toward homelessness prevention or housing services.


Advertisement