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Baltimore officials to move homeless at 'Tent City' to shelter

In a deal cut with activists, Baltimore officials said Wednesday they were busing 55 people experiencing homelessness from a make-shift “tent city” in front of City Hall to a temporary shelter. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

In a deal cut with activists, Baltimore officials said Wednesday they were busing 55 people experiencing homelessness from a makeshift "tent city" in front of City Hall to a temporary shelter.

"We've been meeting with the tent city folks for some time," Mayor Catherine Pugh told reporters. "What I want is a resolution. We want to make sure they get permanent housing as quickly as possible."

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For 10 days, activists and people experiencing homelessness have been camped out in 30 red tents in front of Baltimore's City Hall, demanding that the city address the issues that lead to poverty.

The protest began as an act of opposition to a City Council bill requiring a one-year jail sentence for gun offenders. Protesters said they wanted the city to focus on the root causes of crime.

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The activists' demands included a "21st Century Jobs Program connecting poor communities to local nonprofit organizations, automatic expungement of low-level crime and offenses and a new robust housing first program," according to a statement from the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized the protest.

City workers loaded about 50 people experiencing homelessness onto buses to provide them with temporary housing.
City workers loaded about 50 people experiencing homelessness onto buses to provide them with temporary housing. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

Robert Moore, vice president of the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the agreement with the city represents a true "housing first" model of supporting the homeless.

"We've been out here trying to raise awareness for the homeless in Baltimore City," Moore said. "We reached an agreement with the mayor's office. She's agreed to take 55 residents here at Tent City and take them over to transitional housing, where they'll get the first assessments done for permanent housing. The idea of it is housing first."

Moore said more can be done to reduce the problem in a city where more than 2,000 people are homeless on any given night.

"The amount of homelessness in Baltimore can be stemmed," he said. "It can be brought down, if we have the right resources used the right way."

Activist Ebony Johnson, 29, who camped out at Tent City, said she was happy the protesters were able to strike a deal with the mayor but wanted to make sure the city upholds its end of the bargain.

"My concern is the follow-through," she said. "We have to make sure people have sustainable housing."

Buses took people in need of shelter to the Pinderhughes building in West Baltimore. City officials are to evaluate the residents for two weeks and then find them appropriate housing.

"Participating in the interim housing site at the Pinderhughes building is voluntary — no one will be forced to stay there or participate in programs or activities," a letter from the city to activists states.

Speaking to reporters, Pugh said she was concerned that the encampment in front of City Hall was illegal, and she questioned the motive of some of the activists.

"I don't want people pimping this process," she said. "There are folks out there pimping the process."

Nevertheless, she acknowledged that hundreds of people sleeping on the streets of Baltimore each night is a problem that needs to be addressed.

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"Homelessness is a real problem in our city," she said. "The tents in front of City Hall are indicative of the tents around the state."

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