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Baltimore’s homeless services director on leave during coronavirus outbreak; deputy no longer on the job

The Baltimore mayor’s director of homeless services is on leave and the office’s deputy director no longer works for the city, actions advocates say are especially worrisome during the pandemic and the threat it brings to people who live in encampments and shelters.

James Bentley, a spokesman for Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said Jerrianne Anthony is on paid personal leave and John Turner is no longer a city employee. He did not provide a reason for either personnel action. Meanwhile, the office’s chief of staff has resigned, effective later this month.

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Anthony is the second top-ranking Young administration official who has been on leave during the pandemic. David McMillian, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, was on leave as the pandemic shut down the city. McMillian’s employment ended March 25, according to Bentley, who corrected information he provided earlier Tuesday about McMillian’s status. Officials declined to provide further information about his departure.

Bentley said the mayor asked two top aides, Sheryl Goldstein and Tisha Edwards, to temporarily oversee homeless services. The city also is bringing in a consultant “to assess the office’s strengths and needs and manage the day-to-day operations,” he said.

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During a news conference Tuesday at City Hall, Goldstein said the consultant will make recommendations for organizational and staff changes. Neither she nor the mayor addressed a question about what led to the changes.

Bentley said “continuity of operations to support and keep homeless individuals safe and healthy is Mayor Young’s critical priority at this time.”

“We’re going to always take care of our homeless population, no matter what,” Young said Tuesday.

Anthony was hired in August 2018 and is paid $130,000 a year. She helped roll out a plan to open new temporary shelters during the coronavirus outbreak so people experiencing homelessness had more space to spread out and lower the risk of contagion. Anthony also helped establish screening and testing protocols for people at shelters and arranged for hygiene items and water to be dropped off at encampments.

Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Turner was hired in April 2019 at an annual salary of $95,000, according to online records. It is not clear why his employment with the city ended. He also could not be reached for comment.

The chief of staff, Hannah Roberts, has resigned from the office, according to an email obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Roberts, who earned about $80,000 annually, will remain in her position until late this month. She wrote that the administration asked that she stay on the job, but she decided otherwise after “careful consideration.”

In her message to the Baltimore City Continuum of Care board that helps steer homeless services in the city, Roberts said she admired the “integrity and perseverance” Anthony brought to the job.

“Jerrianne inherited a tremendously difficult charge, with the responsibility to rectify inadequate shelter conditions, identify permanent housing opportunities, and create a unified agenda for change for thousands of people in an environment where the needs far outpace the available resources,” Roberts wrote to the board.

“I am depending on each of you to take up this charge and bring to fruition the goals and objectives outlined in the community’s Action Plan on Homelessness.”

Winston Philip, chairman of the local Continuum of Care, called the situation “very complicated” in an email sent over the weekend to board members.

“This is less than optimal anytime but, especially during this pandemic,” he wrote. “While lives are literally at stake, our community of people experiencing homelessness is always in double jeopardy.”

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Philip told The Sun on Monday that he did not have more information about Anthony and Turner’s employment, but said the board remains committed to fighting for the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

“I cannot stress enough that our focus is on continuity of services for the extremely vulnerable population of our neighbors that are experiencing homelessness,” he said.

Antonia K. Fasanelli, director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said the changes in the homeless services office’s leadership are “troubling at best.”

The office, she said, “is responsible for the lives of some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. We call on the agency daily, if not hourly. The agency needs strong, transparent leadership at this time and it’s not yet clear whether MOHS will have that or the ability to fulfill its mission going forward.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.

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