A group of Baltimore business leaders is calling on elected officials and the police department to do more about “squeegee kids” downtown. The move comes weeks after City Hall quietly launched a “Squeegee Alternative Plan” to attack the poverty driving the youth to clean windshields.
The city released its plan Monday to offer squeegee workers support and employment after T. Rowe Price President and CEO Bill Stromberg requested a meeting with Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison to discuss the “challenges presented by squeegee workers, particularly those who touch cars or drivers without permission or engage in other negative behavior." The Baltimore Sun obtained a copy of the Aug. 28 email.
“The frustrations caused by the squeegee workers are real and negatively impact the quality of life of our employees and residents," the email states.
Stromberg’s request was made on behalf of some of the city’s largest firms and banks, including Morgan Stanley, M&T Bank, PNC Bank, Transamerica, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Miles & Stockbridge, Tydings & Rosenberg, Gordon Feinblatt and Cushman & Wakefield, as well as hotels and property owners of 100 E. Pratt, 100 Light, 250 W. Pratt, 25 S. Charles, 120 E. Baltimore and 200 St. Paul Plaza, he states in the email.
Stromberg could not be reached for comment Monday. In a statement, T. Rowe officials said they were looking forward to a meeting scheduled with the city and were working with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and other local business leaders to discuss the city’s strategy to support youth and workforce development.
The email is a significant development in the city’s history with squeegee workers, some of whom have clashed with motorists while hustling to clean windshields for money. The co-signers of the email make up some of Baltimore’s most powerful business leaders, who collectively employ thousands of people downtown and contribute millions of tax dollars to the city — details Stromberg pointed out in the email’s opening paragraph.
“All of our businesses have been supportive of youth initiatives and workforce development programs, so we obviously appreciate that there must be a balanced strategy for tackling law enforcement needs, poverty, unemployment, and job creation,” Stromberg wrote. “However, we wanted to convey to you the adverse effects of the squeegee presence on our employees, clients, and tenants.”
In an interview Monday, Young and Tisha Edwards, head of the newly created Office of Children & Family Success, said they’ve already been working to carve out the new, holistic approach.
“I think that [email] was written out of frustration, and I think it was written to get our attention, which we already were paying attention to," Young said.
Business leaders, the mayor said, didn’t know what the city was doing. He said city officials are eager to sit down with them and let them know what the city is doing.
A preliminary version of the plan has been in place since July 15 and aims to help the estimated 100 squeegee workers citywide connect with resources that will reduce their need to work the intersections, Edwards said.
Edwards is looking for about $1 million annually to fund the project, about $250,000 of which Young has pledged to allocate. However, she hopes the business community will be receptive to partnering with and potentially funding the city’s plan. Officials said a meeting with the businesses behind the email has been scheduled but did not say when it will take place.
The goal of the Squeegee Alternative Plan is to advance the educational and socioeconomic development of youth panhandlers, strengthen families hurt by poverty and provide alternative paths to growth, the plan outline states.
The plan would be implemented in phases and designed to address the workers’ needs within five categories: safety and well being, support systems, barriers to traditional employment, education and work, according to the outline.
Squeegee workers have often reported using their earnings to pay household bills or feed family members. Some also have barriers to traditional employment, such as a lack of a Social Security card or government identification — a problem that outreach coordinators would work to address.
“Baltimore has a history of criminalizing social ills," Edwards said in July. "It has not worked for us. After huge investment in policing, that’s not the approach I’m going to take, and there is no evidence that approach actually works.”
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To address safety concerns, city officials deployed this summer three police officers on bikes to patrol portions of downtown where squeegee workers tend to operate, but they have made no arrests, Edwards and Young said. The plan describes a potential 311 assistance protocol for commuters that would trigger the deployment of outreach staff. It also suggests the installation of new high-resolution cameras at several intersections.
Among the plan’s other initiatives, two full-time staff members were hired July 15 to lead outreach and recruitment of squeegee workers into a Connect-2-Success program, routing them into student support team meetings through Baltimore city schools. The outline states the Office of Children & Family Success is partnering with nonprofits to establish transitional jobs and to create a Credible Mentor program pairing mentors with 10 young people each to help plan their personal development.
Still, one idea Edwards described in July for a pilot program in three unnamed Baltimore City Schools has since fallen through and was not listed in the plan’s outline.
The program’s million-dollar ask is half what former Mayor Catherine Pugh attempted to raise from the business community for her short-lived Squeegee Corps program, which offered job training and safer alternatives to squeegeeing in the form of car washes.
Pugh raised about $70,000, most of which still sits in city coffers after the program dissolved in the wake of her resignation, Edwards said.
Like Squeegee Corps, one of the new Squeegee Alternative Plan’s largest hurdles will be ensuring consistency for the young people who rely on its services. Edwards wants to secure commitments to fund the program for five years, she said.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, and we need to manage those expectations,” Edwards said. “We should have measurable milestones along the way, and we should be accountable for those resources. But it is the long-term view absolutely.”